A police officer charged with raping a West Jordan woman first met her while responding to a domestic dispute call at her apartment, a police report states.
Bruce Eric Ballenger, 31, who has been a patrol officer in West Jordan since March 1996, continued to contact the woman, 39, eventually developing a relationship with her that lasted six months, according to a report from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the incident.Ballenger was charged April 3 with two counts of rape, a first-degree felony, and two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.
Ballenger and the woman were watching a video and drinking wine at her West Jordan home in the early morning hours of March 14, when he forced himself upon her, police and prosecutors say.
The woman repeatedly told Ballenger no and said "I can't do this," according to court documents. The woman told investigators that her relationship with the officer had ended some two months prior to the alleged rape and that when he made sexual advances that night, she said she didn't want a sexual relationship with him, the report states.
Neither the police report nor the charging documents indicates the actual date the couple first met. West Jordan police refused to release a copy of the report Ballenger filed after that first meeting, saying it was part of the investigation. Ballenger is also being investigated by his department and has been suspended without pay since March 17, West Jordan Police Chief Ken McGuire said.
Ballenger was considered a good, professional officer within the department, McGuire said. "We were all very surprised and shocked."
McGuire said the department code of conduct for officers doesn't specifically prohibit officers from befriending individuals met while on duty, and so he is unsure if Ballenger's relationship with the woman violated any department regulations.
"I guess my comment to that is that we're still investigating it on the internal end," McGuire said. "I'm not sure what the outcome will be. We've never had one of these. We're negotiating with (Ballenger's) attorney to see how we can best serve the department and the officer."
Just where does the line get drawn between one's job and one's personal life? Officers are human, after all, said Sgt. Joe Zdunich of the Utah Department of Public Safety.
"Meeting someone on the job doesn't necessarily preclude having some kind of personal relationship with them, but you don't do it at the expense of the job," Zdunich said. "We've had people meet and develop relationships that lead to marriage. But the problem is when you use your position of authority to influence someone."
All officers who complete their training in Utah are required to sign a law enforcement code of ethics before being licensed by Police Officers Standards and Training, Zdunich said. Very few ever break that pledge.
"Right now we have about 8,500 licensed officers in Utah," Zdunich said. "There are less than 1 percent that we ever do any kind of investigation of. We hold a very rigid line that says your behavior should be exemplary."
Efforts to reach Ballenger's attorney, Ron Yengich, were un-suc-cess-ful.
Case workers at the Salt Lake Rape Recovery Center said the trauma of a sexual assault is made worse in cases where the perpetrator holds a position of respect or authority within the community.
"Anytime (a perpetrator of a sex crime) is a church member or somebody that a person would admire or look up to, it definitely is a problem. We build all our hopes on these people and then when something bad happens, you don't know if you can tell," Virginia Lopez said. "Who's going to believe you?"
It can also make reporting and possible prosecution of the crime more difficult and more public, Lopez said.
"We tell them that it's going to be hard, that if you report, this is what will happen or might happen. That it may get down to their word against yours. That the system may turn back on you and say it's all your fault," Lopez said. "But we tell them that doesn't matter. It was never their fault."
And a victim isn't the only one whose confidence is shaken when community leaders commit crimes. Whole communities can be af-fect-ed, Sandy Police Sgt. Kevin Thacker said.
In cases like this one, where the accused is a police officer, the trust and faith a community places with those in uniform can be lost.
"You have to earn that back," Thacker said. "You can't just say, `Sorry, we made a mistake.' "
And everyone in the law enforcement community pays as well.
"It's like back in the days of Rodney King. Everyone in a blue uniform was someone who beats people," Thacker said. "And it's like politics. When someone in politics does something wrong, it affects everybody in politics. It's the same with us, it affects everyone in the profession."