Parents of Slain University Student File $56 million Wrongful Death Lawsuit

By Hannah Smith - 19 Jul '19 08:11AM
  • Parents of Slain University Student File $56 million Wrongful Death Lawsuit
  • (Photo : bigstock)

The parents of a slain University of Utah student have filed a $56 million lawsuit against the school.

Lauren McCluskey, a track star at the school, was gunned down while on campus in October. Her parents claim that nobody has been held accountable. The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in US District Court against the school over its "repeated failure" to act on the student's "multiple and continuing pleas for help" in the days just before her death.

"Wrongful death claims are civil suits seeking financial damages for death due to the negligence of another," says Tsion Chudnovsky, a wrongful death attorney at Chudnovsky Law. "In this tragic case, the family is alleging the University of Utah refused to respond to more than 20 reports of stalking, intimidation, abuse and dating violence and other behaviors that are prohibited under federal Title IX law."

In a twist that ties to the simmering national gun control debate, the Beretta PX4 Storm .40-caliber handgun used in the murder was illegally obtained by Rowland via a "straw purchase" by an acquaintance. Under the illegal scheme, the handgun was purchased by Sarah Emily Lady, age 24, of Mapleton, Utah from a federal firearms dealer in Salt Lake City. 

The Department of Justice has alleged in an indictment that Lady and Nathan Daniel Vogel, age 21, of Millcreek, Utah, conspired to defraud the U.S. when they knowingly made false statements intended to deceive a firearms dealer to enable purchasing the handgun.  Prosecutors allege that Lady falsely answered "yes" when asked whether she was the actual buyer of the firearm while knowing that Vogel was the intended actual purchaser of the gun. 

After Lady illegally purchased the handgun for Vogel, he held onto it until providing the weapon to Melvin Rowland on October 17, 2018. Rowland used the handgun to murder Lauren McCluskey just five days later. Rowland would not have been able to legally purchase a firearm due to his prior felony criminal record.

McCluskey was walking home from her night class and was on the phone with her mother when she was shot seven times by her ex-boyfriend, according to the lawsuit. Police discovered her body in a parked car. 

McCluskey's ex-boyfriend, 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, took his own life hours after the fatal incident. The two dated for about a month before McCluskey discovered that he lied about his age, name and criminal background. Rowland was convicted in 2004 of felony charges for attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor.

Shortly after the two began dating, Rowland reportedly became "possessive, controlling and manipulative." McCluskey's friends said that she had become disinterested in her studies and had developed several bruises.

McCluskey ended the short relationship after she discovered that Rowland lied about his identity and background.

McCluskey contacted the police, but Rowland attempted to scare her into withholding information about his criminal behavior. He also impersonated an officer while trying to lure her away from her dormitory. McCluskey reported all of this to the police, but her reports were all but ignored.

According to the complaint, McCluskey and her friends reported Rowland's behavior more than 20 times before she was killed. Despite the reports, "no investigation occurred, no plans were developed or implemented and no effort was made to take any meaningful action." 

The family says that the University Department of Public Safety "acted with deliberate indifference and conscious disregard of the deadly situation" and "failed to use any reasonable means to protect Lauren."

According to the complaint, the detective put in charge of Lauren's case went on vacation instead of treating the allegations with the "urgency that they deserved."

An independent review of the case found several missteps on the university's part in response to the case, and 30 recommendations were provided. At the time, University President Ruth Watkins said that the review offered no "reason to believe" that the student's death could have been prevented. The university also noted that no one would be fired or disciplined over the case.

McCluskey's mother said that the lawsuit is the "last resort to affect positive change."

Meta Description: The family of a murdered University of Utah student has filed a $56 million wrongful death lawsuit against the school for alleged negligence.

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