Ex-Vernal detective faces felony charges for accessing Utah drug database

Published: Friday, Jan. 11 2013 9:23 p.m. MST

VERNAL — A former Vernal police detective, accused in a federal lawsuit of using a state database to help him steal painkillers from two people, is now facing felony charges.

Ben Marland Murray was charged Friday by the Utah Attorney General's Office with unlawful use of controlled substance database information and possession or use of a controlled substance. The charges, filed in 8th District Court, are third-degree felonies.

Murray, 37, was on duty on Aug. 11, 2011, when he was arrested by investigators with the attorney general's office. He was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail that day for investigation of burglary. He resigned from the police force one day later.

The charges filed late Friday, however, stem from an incident in December 2010, according to court records.

In a federal lawsuit filed last month, Russell Wayne Smithey and Candy Jean Holmes claimed Murray visited their home at least 30 times in 2011 to conduct "pill checks." Those visits coincided with either Smithey or Holmes refilling a prescription for pain medication, the suit alleges.

"(Murray) knew when the medicine was available for pickup and how much they were supposed to be taking for their specific conditions," the lawsuit states.

The detective obtained this private medical information by accessing the Utah Prescription Drug Database from his home and work computers, Smithey and Holmes allege. 

The database was first created in 1995 and then expanded two years ago. It collects and tracks all information on prescription drugs dispensed by pharmacies in Utah. Its use is restricted to doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officers for the purpose of identifying patients or doctors who might be overusing, over-prescribing or abusing prescription drugs.

Police can access the database by providing an active case number, and they are supposed to have probable cause before accessing an individual's prescription information. 

Murray, a 12-year veteran of the Vernal Police Department, ignored those requirements, according to the lawsuit.

"Officer Murray required that the plaintiffs produce all of the prescription pain medication in their home, knowing exactly what they had, how much they had and when they got it via the state database," the suit alleges. "While counting the pills, he distracted the plaintiffs with interrogation and surreptitiously stole part of their medication by slipping it into his pockets."

Smithey and Holmes, who both have extensive criminal histories, set up a hidden video camera in their home and recorded one of Murray's visits in late 2011. They gave the tape to one of their attorneys, who handed it over to the Utah Attorney General's Office.

The couple, which has listed the state of Utah and the city of Vernal as defendants in their lawsuit, is seeking $2 million in damages.

Prosecutors have asked 8th District Judge Clark McClellan to order Murray to make his first court appearance on the criminal charges on Jan. 23.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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