Jill McCluskey: The University of Utah didn’t take our daughter’s concerns seriously, and it’s not holding anyone accountable

Jill McCluskey

My husband and I thought our daughter was safe. Lauren was a model student athlete at the University of Utah with an outstanding GPA. However, she briefly dated the wrong person, who lied to her about his identity, age and criminal sex-offender past for which he served a 10-year prison sentence. She found out about his lies from an internet search and ended their brief relationship on Oct. 9, 2018.

He was very manipulative, but our daughter figured most of it out. This man had borrowed her car and refused to return it to her dorm on Oct. 10. I called the University of Utah campus police to ask them to accompany her in retrieving her car. I told the campus police, “I’m worried he’s dangerous. … He is a sex offender. … I’m worried someone is going to hurt her.” She got her car back with the help of a campus security escort.

Because the campus police were now alerted to our daughter’s dangerous situation, my husband and I believed they would be on the lookout for her safety. Instead, the report of this incident was not entered into a records management system. No one followed up or linked to her subsequent complaints. The man was free to roam the campus and even freely visit Lauren’s dorm building. My husband and I were lulled into a false sense of security.

Lauren’s friends tried to help. They reported to Housing and Residential Education (HRE) staff that the man was talking about bringing a gun to campus. As a convicted felon, he was not allowed to possess a firearm, let alone bring one onto campus without a permit. However, their concerns were never acted on by HRE staff and were never shared with police.

The convicted felon began harassing her, and Lauren reported the harassment to the campus police on Oct. 12. The police replied that there wasn’t much they could do. They told her she should contact them if it escalated. She also met with a university counselor, on multiple occasions, about the issues with this man.

Then the next day, he started extorting our daughter. Lauren reported the escalation to the campus police on Oct. 13. She also reported that he had peeked through the window of her dorm and that it scared her. The police ran a check and found that he had been convicted of forcible sex abuse.

Had they made an effort to delve further, they would have found that he was on parole with multiple parole violations. An independent review stated, “No UUPS officers interviewed were familiar with the process for obtaining online Corrections Custody Information.” The campus police did not categorize the case as potential dating violence and gave it a low priority. The case was assigned to an inexperienced detective who lacked expertise in identifying domestic violence. No victim’s advocates were employed by the campus police.

Six days went by with no response or action from the campus police. Due to her elevating concern about their lack of response, Lauren called the Salt Lake City Police Department twice, on Oct. 13 and then again on Oct. 19. The Salt Lake City police simply referred her back to the campus police stating jurisdictional issues, despite that she expressed concerns about the unresponsiveness of the campus police.

On Oct. 22, Lauren received a text message that impersonated the deputy chief of the campus police. The text asked her to come to the police station. She called the police officer with whom she had been working three times, until he finally called her back. The officer told Lauren that the text was fake and not to answer the text. However, the officer failed to document or report to anyone this crime of impersonating a police officer, and also did not report the alarming intent to lure our daughter out of her dorm.

It turns out, our daughter was not safe at all. She was murdered on Oct. 22, 2018, as she was returning to her dorm room from an evening class (the same day she reported the fake text attempting to lure her from her dorm).

Lauren was having a lively conversation with me and told me about class projects and how she was looking forward to the spring semester. The last words I heard from my daughter, when her cellphone dropped to the pavement, were “No, no, no!” as he grabbed her, dragged her to a car and shot her to death.

Even the most charitable interpretation of these events leads to the conclusion that the university safety system was dangerously flawed, and a number of individuals tragically failed Lauren. Our daughter diligently reported facts to the police numerous times, but no significant actions were taken.

The University of Utah has neither acknowledged responsibility nor held anyone at the university accountable. Remarkably, the university’s position is that there is no reason to believe that her death could have been prevented. If that were true, then fixing the flaws in the system would be a pointless exercise.

My husband and I strongly reject the university’s position, as we believe any reasonable person would, given the numerous and escalating concerns that were explicitly provided to the campus police, Salt Lake City police, university counselors and HRE staff.

If our daughter’s death could not have been prevented after she reached out to campus police so many times, we have to ask, is anyone’s daughter safe? She did everything she could to obtain help from an organization that claims to have an overriding objective of protecting the safety of students. This organization fatally failed her.

What will it take for them to treat women’s concerns seriously and with urgency when they complain about harassment, peeking through their windows, extortion and impersonating a police officer?

As young adults, students are learning how to deal with life. Skill, sensitivity and attentiveness are needed when interacting with their concerns and worries. At any age, police need to listen to and protect women from violence. Many police departments are leaders in this area, but the University of Utah Police Department is, to say the least, behind the times and dangerously inadequate.

Police departments are often male-dominated. At the University of Utah, only three of 31 full-time officers are women. Research shows that increases in the share of female officers are followed by declines in intimate partner homicides and nonfatal domestic violence. Recruiting and retention of highly qualified police officers, with a more balanced male-to-female ratio, should be a national priority.

My husband and I are grieving the loss of our beloved daughter, Lauren, a beautiful woman in all respects. We hope that an outcome of this tragedy is that campuses — at the University of Utah and across the United States — will respond with great urgency when women report relationship violence.

It is our deepest wish that, in the future, all daughters will be safe when they are away at college. Our beloved daughter, Lauren, was not, and we will deeply miss the rich and beautiful life that she was going to live.

Jill McCluskey lives in Pullman, Wash., with her husband, Matt McCluskey.