A former Vernal police detective will not serve jail time for illegally accessing the state’s prescription drug database, a judge ruled Thursday.
Ben Marland Murray, 37, was originally charged last month in 8th District Court with unlawful use of the controlled substance database and possession of a controlled substance, both third-degree felonies.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance and no contest to accessing the state database as part of a plea deal.
Murray’s attorney, Loni DeLand, said Friday that while the former detective pleaded to the charges as third-degree felonies, they were reduced to class A misdemeanors when 8th District Judge Douglas Thomas sentenced Murray to 18 months of court-supervised probation.
DeLand said Murray is also required to be evaluated for drug dependency and enter treatment but said Murray already completed drug treatment before Thursday’s sentencing.
Meanwhile, Candy Holmes and Russell Smithe have filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Murray and the city of Vernal, claiming Murray used the state’s prescription drug database to look up information about them, including medical history and other private data. Murray learned when they filled prescriptions, what the drugs were and the quantities, the lawsuit states.
Murray, wearing his police uniform and driving his police vehicle, visited their home at least 30 times between January and July 2011 to conduct what he called a “pill check,” the lawsuit adds.
Murray allegedly discussed their medical conditions and other personal issues and required them to produce their medications so he could count the pills.
During that process, the lawsuit states, Murray would distract the couple and pocket pills. Murray knew that Holmes and Smithe had criminal histories and mental health issues, were uneducated and poor, and were unlikely to question him or discover that his actions were unlawful, the lawsuit states.
But the couple started recording Murray’s visits on a video camera, and he was arrested in August 2011. He resigned from the police force the day after his arrest.
Murray allegedly took hundreds of OxyContin and Percocet pills from Holmes and Smithe, who seek damages of at least $2 million.
Keith Campbell, assistant Vernal police chief, said that Murray had no prior history of the alleged behavior during his time on the force.
DeLand said Friday that he felt Murray did not “get off light” with the probation sentence.
“He’s a first offender,” he said. “He lost an entire career, not just a job. I think it’s an appropriate sentence.”
Earlier this month, former Vernal resident Ben D. Mahaffey sued the city and its police officers in federal court. Mahaffey claims two Vernal police officers entered a hospice room without a warrant minutes after his wife died of colon cancer to take unused medicine. That lawsuit is pending.