The family of a University of Utah student shot on campus is suing the institution, saying officials have refused to take responsibility for missing chances to prevent her death despite multiple reports to police
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.
Lauren McCluskey's parents said they hope the suit can help protect other women at risk of dating violence on college campuses. McCluskey, 21, was fatally shot Oct. 22, 2018, after she dumped her boyfriend because he lied about his name, age and status as a sex offender.
University officials missed warning signs of dating violence and made no effort to end the harassment or bar the killer, Melvin Shawn Rowland, from being on campus, the lawsuit claims.
Jill McCluskey teared up at during a press conference as she recalled her daughter's failed attempts to reach university police. The lawsuit alleges her daughter reached out to campus police more than 20 times to report concerns about Rowland. Her friends also reported concerns to dormitory officials, the lawsuit said.
"They tried to minimize her and have her go away, they were not caring, they were not helpful," she said.
The family is seeking $56 million in damages but say any money would go to a trust designed to improve campus safety.
The university declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday morning.
An independent review commissioned by the university found multiple missed warning signs before the shooting, but president Ruth Watkins has insisted there's no reason to believe shooter Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, could have been stopped. Rowland killed himself after gunning down McCluskey, 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 bureaucratic snafus 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.
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.
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.
The university has said they take the case seriously, and pledged to run more-frequent checks that identify ex-convicts. They've also promised to fix police understaffing by hiring more officers and increasing training, as well as streamlining communications between housing officials and police.
McCluskey received a track scholarship following a standout high school career in Pullman, Washington. She finished second in the state for the 100 hurdles and fifth in the high jump in her senior year. She specialized in jumping events in college and ranks 10th all-time at Utah in the pentathlon.