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Parents of slain University of Utah student sue school for $56 million

Posted at 4:29 AM, Jun 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-28 06:42:27-04

SALT LAKE CITY – The family of a University of Utah student shot on campus sued the institution on Thursday, saying officials refused to take responsibility for missing chances to prevent her death despite multiple reports to police.

The suit seeks $56 million in damages but Lauren McCluskey’s parents said they hope it can help protect other women at risk of dating violence on college campuses. They said any money would go to a trust designed to improve campus safety.

University of Utah president Ruth Watkins said in a statement that college would respond to the lawsuit through the court system but expressed “deep sorrow” for McCluskey’s death.

“While there are differences in how we would characterize some of the events leading to Lauren’s tragic murder, let me say again that we share the McCluskey family’s commitment to improving campus safety,” Watkins said.

An independent review commissioned by the university found multiple missed warning signs before she was found shot in a car, but president Ruth Watkins has insisted there’s no reason to believe Rowland could have been stopped.

Rowland, 37, killed himself at a nearby church after gunning down McCluskey as she returned from a night class, authorities said.

The university has pledged to act on the report’s findings, but authorities didn’t discipline anyone.

Matthew McCluskey, the woman’s father, said the university has chosen a path of “defensiveness, denial and no accountability.”

Reports about Rowland began more than a month before her death, when her friends told housing officials he was controlling and talking about guns. That report never made it to police because of technical problems submitting it and concerns about overstepping into Lauren McCluskey’s private life.

Ten days later, her mother called university police saying she was worried about her daughter’s safety and requesting an officer accompany Lauren McCluskey as she got her car back from her ex-boyfriend.

On Oct. 12, she told university police that Rowland’s friends appeared to be trying to lure her off-campus into a trap with fake texts. In the subsequent days, she reported he was extorting her by threatening to post compromising photos of her online.

Melvin Shawn Rowland

He later left a message posing as a police officer in an apparent attempt to get her to leave her university apartment, but that report also did not appear to raise serious alarm.

She was told at one point there was little officers could do without a direct physical threat. Investigators did not discover that he was a recent parolee and sex offender.

KUTV reports Rowland had been convicted of a second-degree felony for the enticement of a minor over the internet and a third-degree felony for forcible sexual abuse. Those offenses should have kept him behind bars until this year, but he was released early and was on parole at the time of Lauren’s death.

Campus police “refused to respond to the reports based on the assumption that Lauren, like most women, was unreasonable, hysterical, hypersensitive, paranoid, overreacting to the situation and not being truthful,” the lawsuit alleges.