Image Courtesy of USA Today
By Angela Hickey
The University of Utah reached a settlement in the case pertaining to its responsibility in the death of senior communications major Lauren McCluskey, who was killed on campus by an ex-boyfriend in 2018. The university reached a $13.5 million settlement, as well as released a statement admitting that her death was completely preventable.
After discovering her boyfriend had been lying to her, not only about his age but also the fact that he was a registered sex offender, McCluskey immediately broke off their relationship. Soon after, the ex-boyfriend began to harass her, sending her countless texts posing as friends, stalking her on or around her campus, extorting money from her by threatening to release a compromising photo of her and coming to her dorm with a pistol that he showed to other students. He even went as far as to send a text to McCluskey claiming to be a police officer in what she took to be an attempt to lure her out in public.
McCluskey, who was a Heptathlete for the Utes, had personally contacted campus police over 20 times to report the ex-boyfriends continued harassment. The university was also contacted by McCluskey’s mother and multiple friends to report these instances, but nothing was done by campus police or by the university itself. The police were never properly contacted despite evidence of multiple threats to Lauren McCluskey’s safety reported by the McCluskey family or Lauren’s friends. McCluskey was shot and killed on Oct. 22, 2018, and her ex-boyfriend was later killed after being cornered by police.
In December 2018, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins stated that she had not found anything in the initial case review that indicated the university could have prevented McCluskey’s death. But a later report conducted by the university revealed that officers made several missteps and failed to recognize warning signs and offered dozens of recommendations for improvement.
“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,” Watkins said. “As a result, we failed Lauren and her family.”
Jill and Matt McCluskey, Lauren’s parents, originally filed a $56 million lawsuit against the university in 2019 after Watkins’ 2018 statement saying nothing could be done to protect their daughter. The Title IX Lawsuit claimed the college was negligent in failing to protect their daughter.
“We acknowledge and applaud the many positive changes that have occurred at the University of Utah since her death and we hope they continue,” stated Jill McCluskey after hearing news on the settlement. “This settlement is important for many reasons: It addresses how Lauren died, but also honors how she lived.”
The McCluskey’s have said that the goal of the lawsuit was to set off a chain reaction to improve campus safety nationwide and that a settlement could force insurance companies to push for safety reforms. They have said all money from the settlement will go to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which contributes to causes associated with “campus safety, amateur athletics, and animal welfare.”
Also as part of the settlement, the university will name the newly launched Center for Violence Prevention after McCluskey. The school will also continue to raise money in order to build an indoor track facility that will bear McCluskey’s name in her memory.