By JONNY BONNER
SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – A city cop used Utah’s prescription drug database to visit a couple’s home for so-called “pill checks” and steal their pain drugs, hoping “they would be too dumb to notice the pills were missing,” the couple claim in court.
Candy Holmes and Russell Smithe, a married couple, sued Utah, Vernal City, and Vernal City police Officer Ben Murray, in Federal Court.
They claim Murray entered and searched their home based on information he got from “a computer database that records and tracks the prescription drug history of all Utah citizens.”
“From January 2011 through August 2011 in at least 30 separate incidents, Vernal City Police Officer Ben Murray, in his capacity as police officer and under color and authority of law, used the prescription drug database to gain personal information about each plaintiff,” the complaint states.
Murray called each visit a “pill check” and forced the plaintiffs to show and dump their medications, they say.
“Officer Murray appeared at the plaintiffs home in his police car, attire, armed with his service weapon and displaying his badge. Officer Murray obtained unlawful access to the plaintiffs’ home. Officer Murray told the plaintiffs that he had come to their home ‘on police business’ in order to conduct a ‘pill check’ i.e. an official police inventory of the plaintiffs’ prescription pain medication. While in their home he discussed their specific medications and conditions with them thereby demonstrating that he was in fact privy to this private information and therefore authorized by the ‘government’ to know their personal business.
“Once in the plaintiffs’ home, Officer Murray illegally detained the plaintiffs via his overt show of police force, including display of his badge, weapon, and his clear statement of official police business in conjunction with the threat of arrest for non-compliance.
“While unlawfully detaining the plaintiffs, Officer Murray interviewed the plaintiffs regarding their prescriptions and other personal business. 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. He told the plaintiffs that he knew they had recently filled a prescription and that he knew how many pills they should have. Officer Murray forced the plaintiffs to dump their pill bottles out and then he counted their pills. While he counted the pills, he distracted the plaintiffs with interrogation and surreptitiously stole part of their medication by slipping pills into his pockets.”
The complaint continues: “Officer Murray personally knew the plaintiffs. He knew they are part of a vulnerable segment of the community. He knew that the plaintiffs are disadvantaged, have a criminal history, mental health issues, poverty, lack of education and lack of status. Officer Murray knew that the plaintiffs’ life situations, mental capacities, and weaknesses would make them especially vulnerable targets to an officer of the law. He assessed the plaintiffs and knew that they would be unlikely to question him or to figure out that his actions against him were unlawful. He hoped that they would be too dumb to notice the pills were missing. He counted on the fact that they would be too scared to stop him from coming into their home and stealing their medication because of his status in law enforcement.”
The plaintiffs call the whole fiasco “egregious misconduct,” and say the database should be protected against unnecessary viewing.
“Beyond agency access, the state of Utah does not safeguard personal prescription information from unlawful access or dissemination by the database users it knows about. This allows law enforcement officers and other government agencies, inter alia, free and open access to learn the names, addresses, types of drugs, dates drugs reach the hands of individuals, corresponding treatments, and underlying conditions of the public at large.”
The state and local government thereby enables corrupt officers “to plan, conspire, to steal/convert these drugs to their own use, under color of law,” the complaint states.
“This database ought to be protected against unnecessary viewing for the protection of the citizens of the state of Utah.”
Vernal, pop. 9,100, is near the Utah-Colorado border, 175 miles east of Salt Lake City.
Murray was arrested in August on suspicion of two counts of burglary, and fired, according to ABC 4 News in Salt Lake City.
ABC reported that the plaintiffs in this case “set up their own sting operation with a $2 camera they purchased at a thrift store,” and used to photograph Murray in their home.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for illegal search, seizure and detention, and failure to supervise or train.
They are represented by Tyler Ayres, of Sandy.