SALT LAKE CITY — The parents of a University of Utah student and track athlete who was fatally shot on campus are fighting a claim by the college that their lawsuit should be dismissed because their daughter’s killer wasn’t a student.
Campus police could have contacted the killer’s parole officer or kept him off campus after Lauren McCluskey and her friends reported his harassment and an extortion attempt, lawyers for Jill and Matthew McCluskey argued in a court filing Monday.
The family alleges their daughter reached out to campus police more than 20 times to report concerns, which the university treated with “deliberate indifference” and minimized based on “false and invidious gender stereotypes,” the court filing states.
“The university and its employees did nothing to protect Lauren,” the attorneys wrote.
Lauren McCluskey, 21, was killed by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Shawn Rowland in 2018 after she dumped him because he’d been lying about his name, age and status as a sex offender. Rowland took his own life after the attack.
McCluskey came to Utah on a track scholarship following a standout high school career in Pullman, Washington.
The family is seeking $56 million in the negligence case filed in U.S. court. They say any money would go to a trust designed to improve campus safety.
The McCluskeys also announced that retired Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham is joining their legal team.
University lawyers argued in September that the McCluskeys don’t have grounds to sue because the killer wasn’t affiliated with the university. They claim the college didn’t have substantial control over Rowland because he wasn’t a student.
The university also disputes the claims that actions by campus staff had anything to do with McCluskey’s gender and that campus police failed to adequately train officers.
An independent review commissioned by the university found multiple missed warning signs before Lauren McCluskey was found shot in a car. However, university President Ruth Watkins has insisted there’s no reason to believe Rowland could have been stopped.
The school said earlier this year it plans to spend about $925,000 to improve safety based on recommendations from a task force that reviewed what happened to Lauren McCluskey.
The recommendations include improving building alarms, adding police patrols outside night classes and hiring a chief security officer.