Frances Schreuder. Arthur Gary Bishop. Addam Swapp.
These names mark eras of John T. Nielsen's 18-year career in public service as a supervising prosecutor and then as Utah's public safety commissioner.In the furor that inevitably surrounds high-profile crimes, Nielsen has been found at the forefront, trying to establish calm in the midst of public outrage.
Nielsen was Salt Lake's chief deputy of prosecutors when Frances Schreuder was charged with ordering her teenage son, Marc, to gun down her multimillionaire father, Franklin Bradshaw, at his warehouse in July 1978 to keep Franklin from cutting them out of his will.
At the July 1983 announcement of the discovery of the bodies of five boys killed by Bishop, Nielsen stood soberly as reporters asked him to make sense out of the unthinkable: "Why were these boys murdered?"
And nearly a year ago, Nielsen faced the relentless glare of the camera lights as a nervous public critically watched law enforcement officers use psychological tactics to negotiate a peaceful end to a 13-day standoff at the Singer-Swapp farm in Marion. At the tragic conclusion of standoff, the chief of Utah's law enforcement force stood next to his colleagues and wept at the news of the death of Lt. Fred House.
Recalling the morning of Jan. 28, Nielsen says, "I was absolutely devastated by the death of this man, a fearless and honored police officer.
"I knew it was a potentially disastrous situation. But we had to remain firm and make it clear the law needed to be enforced - regardless of public opinion to the contrary.
"Although it could have been worse, I don't regard it as an entirely successful conclusion because we lost someone. I will always have to live with a sense of responsibility for Lt. House's death."
After 18 years in the public arena, Nielsen is putting aside his silver police badge and is returning to paneled corridors of the courthouse - not as a criminal prosecutor but as a civil litigator for the prestigious firm of Van Cott, Bagley, Cornwall and McCarthy.
Having submitted his resignation to Gov. Norm Bangerter, effective Jan. 6, Nielsen will become a partner in Utah's largest law firm - concentrating his practice on government-related issues, administrative law and environmental law.
While Nielsen has found public service "extremely rewarding," it is time for a change - for himself and for his family, he said.
Being responsible for the safety of Utah's citizens is not a job for the fainthearted. Tough decisions - such as those made at Marion - require courage, calm and compassion.
"When a crisis demands quick decisions, you are sobered by the impact those decisions may have on many lives. But I have never once felt I haven't done whatwas right. I leave my public service with a clear conscience," said Nielsen.
After members of the Singer-Swapp family were arrested and removed from the Marion farm, Nielsen, his wife and four daughters fled their home temporarily, fearing retaliation by Singer followers.
Danger and public scrutiny are aspects of government life Nielsen will not miss.> "Public service is the most noble thing a person could do. The pay is not good and you have to take a lot of abuse from the public. You get tired of being regarded as a second-class citizen who supposedly is in government because you can't compete in the private sector.
"My experience has convinced me that most public servants are very competent and under-appreciated."
During the Singer-Swapp controversy, law enforcements officers confronted hundreds of letters, phones calls and picketing protesters accusing them of over-reacting to the bombing of the church.
Yet at the conclusion of the ordeal, public opinion showed overwhelming approval. "It's tragic that it took the death of an officer to change public opinion," he said.
In spite of the fickle public opinion and incessant questions from impatient reporters, Nielsen has maintained a reputation as one of Utah's most honorable public officials. His philosophy as administrator and public communicator is to tell the truth - in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner.
"For the most part, Utah reporters are responsible. But some tend to concentrate on the spectacular, painting a different picture than the truth," said Nielsen.> Former Salt Lake County attorney Ted L. Cannon, who was found guilty in 1987 of misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, is a classic example of a public figure mistreated by the press, he said. Nielsen served under Cannon as his deputy attorney.
"Ted did a lot of good, but he will be remembered for his failures because of the immense publicity. It's not fair to deny him credit him for the good he's done."
While Nielsen could use his professional skills to obtain justice for the families of Bishop's murder victims, he could never erase from his mind the image of the boys' bodies and their parents' agony.
But as the public safety director, Nielsen could prevent the tragic deaths of thousands of young Utahns by protecting them from drugs.
He takes pride in the department's drug interdiction program which successfully seized over a two-year period: 100 pounds of cocaine, tons of marijuana, 100 vehicles and $2 million in drug-dealing cash.
"It's incredibly rewarding knowing my efforts have saved some lives and prevented endless misery for many young people who may have used the stuff.
"The drug problem in Utah is worse than people know."
Nielsen becomes uncharacteristically spiteful when he speaks of drug dealers. "I hate drug pushers. They are the scum of the earth who deserve no mercy. We need to do everything we can to get rid of them."
Nielsen had made the decision to leave public life and accept the law firm's invitation before the outcome of the past gubernatorial election - and before Bangerter's unofficial offer for him to become his chief of staff.
While many speculate Nielsen's name may one day grace a gubernatorial ballot, Nielsen says he hopes to serve on citizen committees, but for now, he is "ready to enjoy anonymity."