Officer accused of stealing morphine 'not a dirty cop,' attorney says

Published: Thursday, July 11 2013 4:55 p.m. MDT

The attorney for a former West Valley police officer accused of stealing pain pills from a dead man's house said extreme stress and personal issues took their toll. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The attorney for a former West Valley police officer accused of stealing pain pills from a dead man's house said extreme stress and personal issues took their toll. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

WEST VALLEY CITY — Criminal charges are expected to be filed Monday against a former West Valley police officer accused of taking morphine pills from a deceased cancer patient's home.

But an attorney for the officer, whose name has not been released, said she wants the public to know there was a lot going on behind the scenes with the officer's personal life, although she said no one is trying to justify his alleged behavior.

"He's not a criminal, he's not a corrupt cop, he's not dirty," Lindsay Jarvis said Thursday. "He was really just a human being who was struggling with some pretty intense stuff. I don't want to say 'snapped,' but he was definitely at his breaking point, I would say. That was definitely rock bottom for him."

Jarvis said the officer was a 10-year veteran who spent all of his law enforcement career with West Valley City. He spent his first five years in the patrol division before being moved over to sex crimes. For the past five years, he was investigating sex crimes against children.

"This issues associated with that type of investigation plus some personal issues led to some emotional health-type stuff," she said.

The officer was also dealing with other family issues, including a divorce. He took several months leave from the department. When he returned, Jarvis said he was under "constant observation" for 45 to 60 days. He was required to take a "Fit For Duty evaluation" before rejoining the force, she said. At the time of the incident, the officer had been back to do solo patrol for about a week.

On June 6, the officer was on patrol when he and other officers were called to a home where the resident was found deceased by his family.

While investigating the incident, the officer allegedly pocketed 22 morphine tablets that had been prescribed to the victim to alleviate suffering in his final days. The theft was witnessed by another officer, according to investigators.

But Jarvis said a subsequent blood draw did not find any evidence of morphine in the officer's system, a drug she said he was not addicted to.

"It was a very impulsive action. They did a blood draw. He doesn't have this type of medication in his system," she said.

When the officer returned to the police station, he was placed on leave. West Valley police said the officer "took responsibility" for his action and resigned the next day prior to being fired.

Jarvis doesn't believe the officer should have even been back on the job.

"He just wasn't thinking clearly. He probably shouldn't have been at work. It's that simple. This is probably someone who shouldn't have been there. To even say he rationally thought through what he was doing, I can't even say that," she said. "I don't know if he could even formulate a thought process as to what he was actually doing (when he took the pills).

"These guys are dealing with some pretty heavy stuff. And especially in West Valley, the case loads are so high and the stress is so ginormous. He's a human being. This stuff started to affect him and he made a really poor decision," Jarvis said.

She said her client is continuing to seek treatment and hopes at this point to get the help he needs so he could resume a normal life, although his law enforcement career could be over.

The incident was the latest in a series of events that have cast a dark shadow over the embattled West Valley Police Department in recent months.

Investigations by state and federal agencies have led to 124 court cases being dismissed due to alleged police corruption and an unlikelihood of achieving convictions in court. The majority of cases were tied to the department's former Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

The drug unit was disbanded in December following the fatal shooting of an unarmed Danielle Willard, 21, by a pair of undercover drug detectives. A decision by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office about whether that shooting was justified is still pending.

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