Lauren McCluskey was on the phone with her mother when she was shot and killed in front of her on-campus housing. Her murderer is a man she had dated for a month.
What happened to Lauren, a University of Utah student, could happen anywhere. And the handling of her case could have serious consequences for the future of campus policing.
Lauren's friends were concerned the man she met at a local bar was manipulative, controlling and seemed to be extorting her. She was unaware of his real age, name and criminal record. When she became aware, she broke the relationship off.
Her ex-boyfriend began to stalk her. Lauren’s friends told her resident assistant they believed she might be in trouble. Nothing happened.
Lauren, her friends and her family reported the danger more than 20 times to the University of Utah Police Service. It took seven days to open an investigation. They did not discover that her stalker was on parole.
The detective in charge of the case took planned days off without updating a co-worker on the case. When the detective returned to work, on Oct. 22, 2018, Lauren was dead. The detective opened an unread last email Lauren sent while she was sitting in her car at the crime scene. Lauren was terrified.
But the biggest miss is the U of U most recent response to the case.
Lauren’s family filed a $56 million civil rights lawsuit against the University on the grounds that their daughter’s death should have been prevented by the campus police.
On Sept. 20, 2019, U of U filed to have the lawsuit dismissed. It says the school had no obligation to protect Lauren from her attacker, because Lauren’s killer was not a university student or employee and he was only on campus in the first place by her invitation.
That is bullshit.
The filing concluded, “[Liability for this] would require that schools be guardians of every student’s safety from any act of relationship violence, no matter where the act arises or who perpetrates it.”
As students at a public university, the idea that a university is washing its hands of any responsibility for an easily preventable murder that happened on its campus is horrifying.
But, if that’s not enough, here’s why you should care about something happening on a college campus over 500 miles from ours:
1.) UM has a University police force, and we expect it to protect us. If the suit is dropped, the court agrees that people unaffiliated with campus are not the campus police’s responsibility. The same defense for poor policing could become more common, leading to a lack of any responsibility for strangers on our campus and elsewhere.
2.) UM has similar reporting protocol as the U of U. A 2013 audit found that UM historically struggles to share information across agencies. Some agencies have reporting requirements and others don’t. It’s confusing and it’s not always fast-acting. The U of U report found that a major issue in Lauren’s case was the inefficient reporting protocols for relationship violence.
3.) No one can figure out the Clery Act.
In 2017, U of U was investigated for mishandling its Clery Act responsibilities. These mishandlings included a lack of timely reporting and notifications of dangers to campus. The University of Montana has been fined for both miscataloging and misreporting sexual or relationship violence under the Clery Act twice in the last decade.
And in 2013, the University entered an agreement with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education based on an investigation of UM’s policies regarding sexual assault.
Aside from those reasons, you should care because this is a fellow college student. Lauren was just 21. She ran track and field at U of U. She went out with her friends. She stressed over finals. She was killed on her campus, where she should have been safe. The university she attended is washing its hands of responsibility for her death. If you’re not paying attention to this case, you should be. This is a national case. It could set a precedent that makes our campus less safe. It affects all of us.