Vernal, UT – Police raided a home searching for prescription drugs while the owner of the medications, Barbara Alice Mahaffey, still lay dying in bed from colon cancer. Without a warrant, they searched the house for prescription medications within minutes of the wife’s death, interrupting the husband’s final deathbed moments with his wife of 58 years.
Ben D. Mahaffey, 80, said he was treated as if he were street corner drug dealer planning to sell the painkillers oxycontin, oxycodone and morphine that his wife was taking. The sudden unexpected arrival of police and a mortician left Mahaffey distraught. According to the Deseret News, he was trying to make sure his wife’s body would be taken to the funeral home with dignity, when he says police officers Shawn Smith and Ron Eskelson insisted he help them count and confiscate the prescription drugs:
“I was indignant to think you can’t even have a private moment. All these people were there and they’re not concerned about her or me. They’re concerned about the damn drugs. Isn’t that something?”
Vernal city manager Ken Bassett claims the Utah Controlled Substances Act provides authority for the police search for prescription drugs. Bassett claims Mahaffey was being “overly sensitive” and that police were just trying to protect the public from illegal use of prescription drugs.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Mahaffey has hired an attorney, Andrew Fackrell, to make his case that there’s nothing in Utah law that should allow police to enter a home and search for prescription drugs without a warrant:
“I don’t believe the public would intend for the government to be rummaging through your cupboards while your wife is lying in the next room being prepared to be taken to her final resting place. That’s an extraordinary violation of privacy.”
Fackrell said “it’s apparently common practice for Vernal police when someone dies, but that it’s selectively applied. Some cities have voluntary take-back-prescription-drug programs, but Fackrell said this takes it to an ‘absurd level.’” Do you think that Utah police should pay for their deathbed intrusion?