SALT LAKE CITY, UT – A murder/suicide case from back in 2018 is unearthing some disturbing allegations against an officer who was, at the time, part of a case that connected to the eventual murder of a young female college student.
Now, this officer who is employed with a different police department is under investigation as to whether he shared explicit photos of the now deceased woman back in 2018 when investigating an extortion case.
Yet, a law firm speaking on the behalf of the accused officer is saying that there’s no merit to the accusations.
Days before a university student was killed by an ex-boyfriend who was blackmailing her, the police officer working her case saved the explicit photos of her to his personal phone, bragged about having them, and “showed them off” to at least one coworker. https://t.co/91OcTwkccD
— Shoshana Walter (@shoeshine) May 17, 2020
The investigation of Logan Police Officer Miguel Deras stems back from his time as a campus police officer at the University of Utah in 2018.
Officer Deras was tasked with investigating a report filed by then-21-year-old Lauren McCluskey on October 12th, 2018, where the young woman said she’d been getting messages threatening to expose explicit photos of her if she didn’t pay $1,000.
At the time, she informed campus police that she’d just broken up with Melvin Rowland, as he’d withheld from her that he was a registered sex offender. She admitted to paying the $1,000 dollars to avoid the dissemination of the pictures the extortionist said to have had.
At some point after receiving the evidence associated with the case, Officer Deras is alleged to have saved the compromising photos of McCluskey to his phone and showed them off to a co-worker. Apparently, the U of U Police officials were not aware of the incident at the time that it allegedly occurred.
Then, on October 22nd of 2018, McCluskey was murdered by her ex, Rowland, and Rowland was said to have shot himself shortly thereafter.
Days before Lauren McCluskey was killed, the officer assigned to her case showed off the explicit photos of her — evidence in her extortion case — to a male co-worker and bragged about getting to look at them whenever he wanted.https://t.co/w5nlJzzjm9 pic.twitter.com/3vvAgBT87K
— Courtney Tanner (@CourtneyLTanner) May 17, 2020
The alleged showcasing of the photos of the now-slain girl essentially flew under the radar until recently. Before any insight fleshed itself out into the accused misconduct of Officer Deras, he had already transferred over to the Logan Police Department in September of 2019.
This notion was reiterated by campus police Lt. Jason Hinojosa:
“[Officer Deras] was long gone before we had any inkling that that incident with the photo being shown had occurred.”
The entire case surrounding the murder of McCluskey has been rife with criticism, with allegations floating that the university could have done more in preventing this death of the student.
Specifically, critics feel that if police had properly followed up on the first report pertaining to McCluskey being blackmailed, then Rowland could have potentially been in custody before a murder could have ever occurred.
Prior to Officer Deras leaving the university, campus police officials conducted a download of his phone in July of 2019 to look into any possible information related to the McCluskey extortion case that he was assigned to.
During that July 2019 download, officials were trying to understand how much contact transpired between the victim and Officer Deras before she was murdered, to see if there was any weight to accusations of poor investigative follow-up.
Yet, the department noted that Officer Deras had acquired a new phone after the death of McCluskey, and there was no record of calls or text messages between him and the victim found as a result.
Furthermore, still having that data download today, it also showed that there’s currently no physical evidence of Officer Deras ever having downloaded explicit photos from the McCluskey extortion case.
What managed to get the ball rolling on this investigation against Officer Deras was an article published by the Salt Lake Tribune, which conveyed some heavy accusations based upon obtained reports and confidential sources.
However, there was also an officer from the campus police who was said to have disclosed to higher-ups that Officer Deras did show him the photos during a briefing while they were seated next to each other, according to Lt. Hinojosa:
“We did identify one person who could confirm. He came forward after the investigation was begun.”
The question is, what could Officer Deras’ former employer do today in the event there’s truth to the allegations of sharing explicit photos of McCluskey prior to her murder?
That’s hard to say, in all honesty.
However, two campus police investigators who were tasked with looking into Officer Deras’ conduct who allegedly knew about the incident of the shared explicit photo were placed on administrative leave, according to U of U spokesman Chris Nelson and U of U Police Chief Rodney Chatman.
According to Chief Chatman, a previous report into Officer Deras’ conduct mentioned the sharing of the explicit photo with a male colleague:
“The report, which was completed prior to my joining the department as chief, found that a photo was shared in the context of a shift-change briefing.”
The Logan Police Department responded to the recent allegations against Officer Deras, who is now employee with said department.
While the department noted that they’ll be conducting their own investigation into his alleged conduct, they also said via a statement that they’ll be relying heavily on the findings by the U of U Police Department’s new investigation.
However, a law firm is threatening the Salt Lake Tribune, who had initially broken the story which led to this new found investigation. The letter sent to the SLT alleges that their reporting on the story of Officer Deras’ alleged conduct was “at a minimum, reckless and improperly sourced.”
The letter, released by Jeremy Jones of Nelson Jones, PLLC, opens with the following:
“The story recently run by Courtney Tanner of the Salt Lake Tribune does disservice to Laruen McCluskey, her family, Utah law enforcement, and Miguel Deras. Officer Deras did nothing wrong, and he has already been investigated and cleared.”
While the letter didn’t deny that there was an explicit photo shared by the officer during a briefing, the letter alleges a previous investigation into the officer showed that the photo shared during the briefing was for job-related purposes:
“A photo was raised in a routine briefing meeting for a law enforcement purpose, specifically, to determine how to properly include the evidence as part of the case.
Miguel Deras did not, and would not, brag about a photo like that and the account that has been so irresponsibly reported is inconsistent with the recollections of everyone else involved.”
Attorneys for Miguel Deras want the Salt Lake Tribune to retract a report about his handling of evidence Lauren McCluskey's sextortion case.
They claim the report "targets and victimizes an officer without basis."https://t.co/khNXcFZ6P7
— KUTV2news (@KUTV2News) May 20, 2020
The law firm also addressed the claims about the unnamed officer who had allegedly been present when the photos were shared during a briefing in a manner that was inappropriate:
“What the story fails to mention is that other public records demonstrate that those claims were investigated and dismissed as unfounded.”
The entire premise behind the SLT piece was framed in that Officer Deras was seemingly guilty, and using loaded language and emotional appeals to imply that people had to have known that Officer Deras did something wrong and no one in the U of U Police Department did anything about it.
The law office’s letter also addressed that aspect as well:
“This investigation [into officer Deras] was also closed with no finding that Officer Deras had shared the photos or stored them inappropriately.
There was no finding that he bragged about the photo or made an inappropriate joke. Officer Deras was not disciplined because he had done nothing wrong.”
In the letter’s closing, the law office says that the SLT should immediately enact a retraction:
“The Tribune should not abide by reporting that legitimately warrants the moniker “fake news.”
For a paper so quick to claim that the University should be subject to independent investigation over its handling of Lauren’s case, it ought to subject itself to the same scrutiny and investigate the validity of [Ms.] Tanner’s story.
The Tribune should take a hard look at whether it was ever responsible to report these false allegations about Officer Deras and make the right choice by issuing a retraction.”
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