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Utah cop accused of mishandling explicit images loses job

A police officer accused of showing explicit images of a murdered University of Utah student while investigating an extortion case she filed before her 2018 death has lost his job, officials said Friday.

Officer Miguel Deras’ employment with the Logan City Police Department ended effective immediately on Wednesday after an internal review of an investigation released by the state’s Department of Public Safety, Chief Gary Jensen said in a statement. 

The investigation concluded that Deras ‘mishandled sensitive evidence’ pertaining to 21-year-old Lauren McCluskey’s case while he was employed with the university´s police department.

McCluskey, 21, was shot multiple times by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, 37, on October 22, 2018, outside her dorm room in Salt Lake City. Rowland later died by committing suicide. 

Rowland was a registered sex offender who lied to McCluskey about his identity, and she reported him to police over claims he was extorting money from her using her explicit photos.  

In May the Salt Lake Tribune revealed McCluskey reported the extortion to Deras and provided her intimate photos as evidence. Deras inappropriately kept them. 

‘The conclusions drawn in the DPS report are inconsistent with the high expectations and standards placed upon our officers by the community and our department,’ Jensen said.

The investigation found that a group of university officers made inappropriate comments about explicit photos of McCluskey shortly before she was shot and killed by Rowland.

Utah’s Department of Public Safety determined that Deras showed at least three male co-workers explicit images of McCluskey without a work-sanctioned reason.

One staffer said Deras commented about getting to ‘look at them whenever he wants’, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

That employee admitted he too made crude remarks on the photos.

Another employee said other officers said Deras was ‘lucky’ to get to work on the case and McCluskey was a ‘cute girl.’

He even showed the photos of McCluskey to a superior at the murder scene on campus on the night of her death, an investigation shows. 

At the time of the initial report the university confirmed Deras showed the photos to his peers but said their internal probe was not thorough enough and called in DPS to investigate further.

The probe determined Deras showed McCluskey’s photos on four occasions.

McCluskley first came into the department on October 13, 2018 to fill out a statement over her concerns of extortion and reported the incident to Deras.

That same day he first opened the intimate photos though his email account on his personal phone to show them to a superior at the campus department asking how to upload them into the evidence system.

He had been working as a campus cop for about three years at that point.

On October 15 he showed them to a second supervisor, a sergeant, asking again how to attach the photos to the case file.

The third occasion was after a staff briefing in October 2018 where he showed three other officers the photos, even though they were not working on the case.

‘Sometime after the briefing, Officer Deras showed the images to a group of officers,’ the report said.

He showed them again on a fourth occasion to a sergeant after the shooting at the crime scene.

He displayed the images after the superior said, ‘I wonder what she looked like.’

‘He said it was a sexually explicit image. He says he doesn’t recall anything else about the photo, only that it was a quick glimpse. … When he saw the photo, he could have said something along the lines of “Um, she’s cute” but doesn’t recall what he said. … He didn’t think Miguel [Deras] showed it to him to get a reaction out of him or for shock value,’ the report stated.

Investigators were unable to determine if Deras had saved or downloaded the photos onto his personal phone, one which one former cop claimed to have seen.

The report did find that Deras opened the images on his phone by accessing his work email and displayed them that way on four occasions.

One was after the briefing and three other times were with supervisors.

However, it’s not clear if Deras will face any consequences by the Logan Police Department where he was hired after leaving the university in 2019.

The Logan Police Chief also promised to investigate the matter.

He said Wednesday it will ‘take time to read and disseminate the report’.

The state has not determined whether it will suspend or revoke Deras’ police certification based on the findings, according to Maj. Scott Stephenson, who oversees the Peace Officer Standards Training (POST) division, which is responsible for discipline within law enforcement.

Following the report the University of Utah announced Wednesday it is ‘pursuing action against individual officers’.

 Police Chief Rodney Chatman confirmed that action was taken against three individuals, largely for failing to report the misconduct when it first occurred or participating in the inappropriate remarks.

‘It is inexcusable for any law enforcement officer to discuss photos or information provided by a victim outside of clear and legitimate law enforcement reasons,’ Chatman said in a statement.

For the review DPS staff interviewed nearly 40 current and former employees of the University’s campus police. Deras declined to participate in the probe.

His attorneys previously denied he showed off any of McCluskey’s photos.

Now his attorney Jeremy Jones says that Deras did show the photos during a routine briefing, but only to ask how they should be handled and stored and did not make any inappropriate comments.

‘From my client’s recollection, he never participated in that. He showed the photos in the briefing, he didn’t ‘smoke and joke’ about the photos at any time,’ he said.

McClusky’s death has roiled the institution and raised serious questions about how it handled her repeated reports that the man was harassing her before her death, including extorting her with the images she had sent him when they were involved.

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