University of Utah and parents of Lauren McCluskey announce settlement agreement

The University of Utah and Jill and Matt McCluskey announced on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, that they have settled two lawsuits filed in the death of the McCluskeys’ daughter, Lauren.

The McCluskeys joined U President Ruth Watkins at a press conference held on campus to announce the settlement. The agreement includes a settlement payment to the McCluskeys and a charitable donation to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation; a pledge by the U to seek funds for an indoor track facility to be named in honor of Lauren; and an agreement to rename the newly launched Center for Violence Prevention as the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention. Details of the settlement are included in the FAQ below.

During the press conference, President Watkins made the following statement:

The University of Utah has worked collaboratively with the McCluskey family to reach a settlement in the death of their daughter, Lauren. The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation. As a result, we failed Lauren and her family. If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide their responses, the university believes they would have been better equipped to protect Lauren.

We share with the McCluskeys an interest in working to improve safety for all students, not only on our campus but on campuses across the country. With our commitment to learning from our mistakes, we honor Lauren and ensure her legacy will be improved campus safety for all students. We are engaged in making meaningful and lasting changes in our approach to campus safety, particularly in how we respond to and assist crime victims and through focusing on research-based approaches to violence prevention. We believe these changes will build a culture of safety that prioritizes needs of crime victims and provides them with the full response and support they need, while recognizing this is an ongoing process that takes time, resources and our complete commitment.

 

The settlement was announced on the second anniversary of Lauren’s death. The agreement acknowledges the progress the U has made in improving campus safety over the past several years and the McCluskeys’ interest in promoting campus safety through a foundation they created in Lauren’s name. It notes that, going forward, the McCluskeys and the university “wish to engage in a mutually constructive and supportive collaboration to improve safety on campuses across the country.” The McCluskeys also plan to help raise funds to build the indoor track facility.

The full settlement is available online here.

The recording of the full press conference can be found here.

FAQ

What are the monetary terms of the settlement?

The state of Utah, through its risk management agency and its insurance provider, will pay the McCluskeys $10.5 million by March 31, 2021. The University of Utah, using unrestricted gifts and the president’s discretionary fund, will make a charitable donation of $3 million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation by March 31, 2021. No tuition or state-appropriated funds will be used in making this donation.

What else is included in the settlement?

As part of the settlement, the University of Utah pledged to raise funds to construct an indoor track facility by Dec. 31, 2030, that will bear the name Lauren McCluskey or jointly her name and that of a major donor to the facility. If the university is unable to raise funds to cover construction costs by that date, it will make an additional contribution of $3 million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation no later than June 30, 2031.

The university also will rename the newly launched Center for Violence Prevention as the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention. The center’s inaugural director is Chris Linder, special assistant to President Ruth Watkins for violence prevention and education, and a professor in the U’s College of Education.

How did Lauren McCluskey die?

Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, a convicted sex offender who was on parole, killed Lauren, 21, on Oct. 22, 2018, as she walked back to her residence hall. After a brief relationship, Lauren had broken up with Rowland immediately upon discovering his background. He then began threatening and extorting her, prompting Lauren to contact University Police for help. Hours after killing Lauren and as police searched for him, Rowland died by suicide.

What has the University of Utah done since Lauren’s death to improve safety on its campus?

The university began making improvements to campus safety immediately following Lauren McCluskey’s tragic death. President Watkins established an Independent Review Team 11 days after the murder. That team announced its findings, which identified missteps and shortcomings in the university’s handling of Lauren’s case, and 30 recommendations based on its review on Dec. 19, 2018.

The U has implemented all those recommendations, as well as recommendations made by a Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety.

Changes to safety operations include new personnel, revisions in policies, practices and procedures and investments in infrastructure. These include requiring specific trainings for various entities on campus, clarifying reporting structures, revising policies and holding all employees accountable for strict compliance with these policies. Among other changes, the U has added an on-demand shuttle service, which operates in addition to its courtesy escort program, consolidated evening classes in neighborhood clusters and made parking close to buildings available to students after 3 p.m.

Most significantly, in February 2020, the University of Utah hired Marlon Lynch as its inaugural chief safety officer, an investment only a handful of institutions of higher education across the country have made. Lynch is overhauling many campus safety operations and has created two committees designed to shape the future of safety at the U and to increase accountability. The Public Safety Advisory Committee, co-chaired by two students, assists with developing the strategic direction of the Department of Public Safety, while the Independent Review Committee examines complaints made against public safety personnel. In its efforts to change the culture of its police department, the U has hired a new police chief; added key personnel to its police force, including a detective who specializes in domestic violence cases; and implemented new policies and trainings.

Additionally, Lynch established a new Community Services division, staffed with social workers, to work closely with University Police to respond to incidents and provide 24/7 crisis support. The safety divisions that previously reported to the chief of police now report directly to Lynch, allowing University Police to focus exclusively on police services.

What is the focus of the U’s violence prevention center?

The center, officially launched on Sept. 21, 2020, aims to become a national leader in the effort to eliminate relationship and sexual violence among U.S. college students. Its inaugural director is Chris Linder, special assistant to President Ruth Watkins for violence prevention and education, and a professor in the U’s College of Education.

The center seeks to bridge the gap between research and practice by bringing together the expertise of researchers, prevention educators, and students to execute a comprehensive research agenda focused on the prevention of relationship and sexual violence and share knowledge it develops across the U.S. Launched with the help of private philanthropy, the center supports education to raise awareness of relationship violence, research to inform best practices and connections with community partners who share these goals.

When will the center’s name change?

The center’s name will change immediately to the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention.

What other efforts is the U making to address violence prevention?

In addition to Professor Chris Linder’s work, Professor Sonia Salari received a $300,000 from the Office on Violence Against Women, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, to bring together external resources and services and comprehensive preventative strategies to improve outreach, awareness and prevent violence on the U campus. Professor Annie Fukushima also is leading a statewide effort to address violence through the Gender-Based Violence Consortium. These projects are in addition to campus-focused, anti-violence work conducted by the Center for Student Wellness, the Women’s Resource Center, the LGBT Resource Center and other affinity-based student centers on campus.

When did the McCluskey family sue the University of Utah?

In June 2019, attorneys for the McCluskey family sued the University of Utah in federal court. The lawsuit sought a $56 million judgment against the university, some of its employees and the state. A wrongful death and negligence lawsuit was subsequently filed in state court.

When will the lawsuits be dismissed?

Attorneys for the McCluskeys will file documents in federal and state courts to dismiss the lawsuits no later than 15 days after settlement payments are made.

Watch the full press conference below.