ESPN’s Lauren McCluskey documentary unveils new information
“LISTEN,” ESPN’s new documentary on the 2018 murder of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey threads the timeline of events leading up to her death in great detail. The four-year investigation includes interviews with people who had previously never spoken publicly before.
“What struck me was how many opportunities there were, where one different decision might have been the thing that saved her life,” said T.J. Quinn, one of the investigative reporters on the documentary.
One of those moments may have been when Melvin Rowland, McCluskey’s ex-boyfriend and murderer, told his work supervisor and some co-workers that he was extorting McCluskey and feared going back to jail; this happened six days before he killed her. The documentary plays tape of the campus police interview with the supervisor that happened after the murder – this recording had not been publicly released before.
The same interview “had an immediate, obvious emotional, even physical impact” on Rowland’s last parole officer, Megan Thomson, when she heard it, Quinn said.
“That’s just another thing that could have been brought to my attention that could have changed everything,” Thomson says in the documentary. “Right then and there I would have gone to pick him up. I would [have] put him in handcuffs.”
Quinn also interviewed the former University of Utah campus police officer who had the most contact with McCluskey. Miguel Deras had never spoken publicly about the case before. When asked what he could say to McCluskey if he could, Deras responded that he was “sorry for how we handled her case. I didn't push the detective to move, but I wasn't in that position to do so.”
Deras admits to mistakes in the documentary, like not telling a superior when McCluskey showed him a text from someone pretending to be the deputy chief the day she died.
Quinn said that Deras made the case in their interview “fairly convincingly” that he was just doing what he was trained to do – according to what experts told Quinn about how front-line officers are trained.
“Deras in a lot of ways gets a lot of attention because he's the one who sat down with us, which meant he's the one who could be the focus of those questions,” Quinn said.
Both then-University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy and Kayla Dallof, the detective assigned to McCluskey’s case declined to be interviewed for the documentary.
To prevent more deaths like Lauren McCluskey’s, Quinn believes that someone “has to be willing to make a mistake and err on the side of caution in order to protect somebody against what seems inconceivable.”
“People didn't think something like that could happen to Lauren. But that's part of what allowed it to happen … not recognizing just what the threat was.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ciara Hulet: What did you learn from recordings of Rowland’s parole board hearings?
T.J. Quinn: Rowland was in prison on sexual assault charges, and he was asked at one point during a hearing, "how many other women did you rape?" And his answer was, "well, like that, two. But as far as women that I manipulated into sex, probably 50." And it was jarring to hear. It was jarring for his last parole agent when we played it for her. And when we went back to the Board of Pardons and Parole and said, "why wasn't any action taken?" their explanation was “we're limited. He's not Mirandized in that setting,” and that the board has to be in a position to have an open, full discussion with him and not be in a position where they're prosecuting because that's just not their role.
CH: How did you get the security camera footage from the University of Utah campus buildings used in the documentary?
TJQ: It wasn't always easy. The university fought back on a lot of it and we actually ended up in records hearings a couple of times before the state board, trying to get the material that we wanted and that we felt the public had a right to. Won one, lost one. But at some point, it felt like there was a change, that the university wasn't going to fight every request just automatically.
CH: Why didn’t the police and policy changes that the university has made since McCluskey’s death make it into the aired documentary?
TJQ: First of all, in the written piece that we did with it, we do get into all of that. As far as the documentary, you know, what we got into more was how the McCluskey's feel about how things went with them. And when you speak to Jill and Matt McCluskey now, Lauren's parents, that is an entirely different relationship with the university since they reached that $13.5 million settlement. They see themselves more as partners with university officials now. They like the changes that they've seen.
If you’re experiencing abuse, help is available by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
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