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Lane Heaps, Burned Out Cop

Lane Heaps tries to shake off the demons of 20 years behind the badge.

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JAWBREAKER
Violence and trauma weren’t the only problems that dogged Heaps’ early career in the department. Others would sow the seeds of his future decline. When he joined the force, he thought he was inheriting the law-enforcement culture of his father’s generation, where, Dobrowolski says, “if you took a swing at a cop, you went to the hospital” before you went to jail. “That way you wouldn’t take another.” But by the late 1980s, such acts of violence by officers were no longer tolerated. In 1990, according to Heaps’ discipline file, which City Weekly accessed through a records request, his department upheld two inappropriate force complaints against him.

One was for “slapping an arrested person while that person was handcuffed.” Heaps says after he had chased a driver up an off-ramp against traffic, got the suspect out of the car and handcuffed him, the man was verbally abusive. Heaps, his “adrenaline just everywhere,” slapped him. “You can’t do that,” he says now. “You can’t bitch slap because you are wound up.” While he says he accepted his suspension for several days without pay, he did not agree with the department’s decision over a second 1990 excessive-force complaint.

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Heaps stopped a youth in Sugar House near a broken store window. The youth refused to take his hands out of his pockets. “When it comes to a street fight, you don’t know what the other guy has,” Heaps says. “Does he have weapons, jujitsu, is he a golden gloves boxer?”

A self-described “physical wonder” who could bench press 1,000 pounds in his 20s, Heaps pulled the suspect’s arms up and the youth hit him on the side of the ear. Heaps responded by a single punch to the side of the face, knocking the youth out cold for 17 minutes and breaking his face in three places. “I was worried I had killed him.” His sergeant told him, “Lane, you’re too big to be hitting guys.” Heaps replied, “Well, Captain, give me a height-weight chart so I know when I can hit somebody.” He got five days unpaid leave “for breaking that guy’s jaw.”

PLAYING THE PART
In 1997, Heaps spent a year undercover in vice. He grew a beard, put on weight. “You’ve got to be a fat Mormon husband who wants some,” he says, when describing the ideal look for a vice undercover agent. “Driving a station wagon, with a child seat in the back and a family-home-evening manual,” rendered him, in prostitutes’ minds, a believable client. “Arresting prostitutes is twice as hard as drug dealers,” he says. “You’ve got to act. I drove around with a 16-ounce beer in my lap so I really smelled like a drunk. If half the courts saw what we did ...”

His work brought him close to four prostitutes. “I got to really like them and feel sorry for them.” Many were addicted to injecting black-tar heroin—a mix of heroin and morphine derivatives—which eats muscle and creates large abscesses on users’ arms. One he had to threaten with jail before he could persuade her to go to the hospital to treat the gaping, drug-inflicted abscesses on her arms.

His time in vice was short-lived, though, lasting only a year. Heaps, along with all the other officers involved in the fatal shooting of the alleged drug dealer at the North Temple motel, were quickly transferred to other departments, recalls Sgt. Josephson, although no reason was given as to why. Heaps went back to the graveyard shift with other officers who, like him, were known to openly question the decisions of their superiors. Heaps made enemies higher up because he wasn’t “willing to accept everything he was told,” Lt. Cracroft says, and “offended some big wheels because he opened his mouth. He wasn’t a golden child.”

His currently divorcing spouse, Sgt. Rainey, recalls a time when officers were expected to back up bounty hunters. Her husband called the watch commander seeking clarification as to why uniformed officers were effectively sanctioning a bounty hunter’s activities by backing them up. Heaps was told to “just help them out,” she recalls, but later the procedures were changed. “It didn’t earn him brownie points,” Rainey says.

STREET JUSTICE
On March 14, 1999, Heaps was called by Dobrowolski to help with an undocumented Mexican male he had detained, handcuffed and sat on the ground. Jorge Torres-Vences had run through two red lights and, Heaps later testified, appeared to be intoxicated. Dobrowolski says Heaps made a mistake in taking his eyes off of the 28-year-old suspect. When Heaps realized Torres-Vences might be trying to slip his cuffs, he bent down to get a closer look and Torres-Vences kicked him in his knee. As Heaps fell, fearing he was losing control of the situation, he says, he threw one punch to Torres-Vences’ face. The punch caused a blow-out fracture, breaking a tissue-thin bone behind the eye, which requires treatment with antibiotics.

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Then-Sgt. Cracroft approved the initial police reports by Dobrowolski and Heaps, but a superior notified Cracroft he was unhappy with the incident. Subsequently, Heaps and Dobrowolski were written up for using excessive force and Cracroft for failure to supervise. “They decided my memo wasn’t complete enough,” Cracroft says.

Initially, Heaps was suspended from duty. “I didn’t think then, and I don’t think now, what he did was improper, let alone illegal,” says Dobrowolski. Heaps argues his two 1990 excessive-force complaints made him a target in the eyes of superiors wanting to make an example. He sat at home, at times working out his frustrations at the gym, at others all but drowning himself in liquor. On June 5, 1999, he pleaded not guilty to a simple assault class A misdemeanor. The following month, SLCPD Chief Ruben Ortega fired him. Rainey realized for the first time, “you didn’t have to do something wrong to get into bad trouble.” She felt dazed, “like I had fallen down the rabbit hole.”

Ortega’s administration “brought out the worst in everybody, in supervisors and management,” says Lt. Cracroft. Rainey recalls that the “old-boy network” in place prior to Ortega’s arrival in 1992 evolved into a culture under the new chief where you “got ahead by crawling over somebody else.” Numerous officers interviewed for this story felt Heaps was a victim of superiors who, Cracroft says, “decided to win points [with the administration] and do payback to Lane” or his independent-minded graveyard squad. Ortega declined to comment for this story, in part because the events “were so long ago.”

As the months dragged on before his trial in November 1999, Heaps continued drinking and conjured up plans to ruin the marriages of those who had betrayed him, “plans to ruin their careers, plans to destroy their lives.” Heaps couldn’t sleep at night, Cracroft recalls. “He would visit us at the 7-Eleven,” where officers go to get coffee at the beginning of their shift. “It was horrible on Lane,” Cracroft says. “His friends were trying to put him in jail. That about killed him.” With a criminal charge pending, Heaps couldn’t find a job, despite applying for 32 positions, most of them at minimum wage. “Nobody would touch me, I was poison; scared to death, wondering how I would support my kids,” he says.

When the case went to trial, Heaps was represented by private counsel Ron Yengich. “Lane really felt that he was misused by the police department and did not get sufficient support,” Yengich wrote in an e-mail.

Heaps’ father had thought the incident would go no further than an investigation. He sat through every day of the trial. “I think the department was looking for somebody to discipline,” he says now.

The trial lasted for four days. According to a Nov. 21, 1999, story by Derek Jensen of the Deseret News, Salt Lake County prosecutor Nicholas D’Alesandro said Heaps’ punch “was street justice,” and that Torres-Vences was “as vulnerable as a person can be without any means to protect himself, lying there.” Yengich dismissed D’Alesandro’s argument as “a fable,” arguing a handcuffed man could be as dangerous as one whose hands were free. He accused Torres-Vences of being a liar, both over his denial he had been drinking and claiming memory loss as a result of Heaps’ blow. After two agonizing days of deliberation, the innocent verdict came in and the courtroom packed with blue uniforms erupted with shouts of “Yes.”

Yengich told The Salt Lake Tribune’s Stephen Hunt, “We make the police do our dirty work, and we hold them to a higher standard and expect them to be 100 percent perfect. People in uniform are human beings. To say they have to accept being assaulted … is beyond credibility.”

Afterward, Rainey recalls, “people would say ‘congratulations.’ For what? For going through hell when he didn’t do anything wrong?”

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