Utah Cops Interrupt Husband's Last Goodbyes to Grab Dead Woman's Pain Pills

Barbara Alice Mahaffey, an elderly resident of Vernal, Utah, died at home of colon cancer on May 21 as her husband of 58 years stood at her side. The death of his long-time spouse was bad enough, but what came next has Ben Mahaffey furious -- and heading to court.

Barbara Alice Mahaffey (family photo)
Mahaffey, 80, filed a lawsuit against the city of Vernal earlier this month charging that Vernal police interrupted his last goodbyes by searching his house for her prescription pain medication without a warrant within minutes after her death. Mahaffey said he was distraught and trying to ensure that his wife's body would be transported to a funeral home with dignity when police insisted he help them look for drugs.

"I was holding her hand and saying goodbye when all the intrusion happened," he told the Deseret News.

According to Mahaffey, his wife died at 12:35am with him and an EMT at her side. About 10 minutes later, a mortician and hospice worker arrived, accompanied by police. Mahaffey says he doesn't know how police came to be there, but that they treated him as if he were going to sell the drug on the street.

His wife had prescriptions for Oxycontin, oxycodone, and morphine. Such heavy-duty opiates are commonly used by people in end-stage cancer. They are also highly sought after by people who are self-medicating, using them for recreational purposes, or addicted to them.

"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 damned drugs. Isn't that something?" he said. "I had no interest in those drugs. I'm no addict."

According to the lawsuit, Mahaffey asked Vernal city officials and police leaders how they could search his home without a warrant and was told that they could do so under the Utah Controlled Substances Act. The lawsuit also claims that city manager Ken Bassett pooh-poohed his concerns, saying he was being "overly sensitive" and that police were just trying to protect the public from diverted prescription drugs. Mahaffey described city officials as "rude" and "condescending."

His attorney, Andrew Fackrell, told the Deseret News the warrantless search was both unlawful and uncalled for. There is nothing in the state's drug law that permits entering homes to search for prescription drugs without a warrant, he said.

"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," Fackrell said. "That's an extraordinary invasion of privacy."

Fackrell added that it is apparently common practice for Vernal police to search for prescription drugs without a warrant after someone dies, but that it is done selectively. While some cities have prescription drug "take back" programs, he said, the Vernal police approach takes that to  "an absurd level."

Mahaffey said he was concerned about eroding rights.

"The whole thing, when think about it after the fact, is so stupid," he said. "My basic motivation was 'Gee, I don't want this to happen to other people.'"

The lawsuit names the city of Vernal, city manager Bassett, and four members of the Vernal Police. It alleges the action by police violated Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unwarranted search and seizure and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law.

The city and the individual plaintiffs have not publicly commented on the lawsuit.

Vernal, UT
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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I certainly can understand

I certainly can understand how he feels. All power to him,and may abusive police like those rot in hell.

hell yea kensa

yeah for sure Kensa - mind if i call you special K from now on? (the J in CJ stands for junkie)


dude these cops are so lucky this old man didnt F them up. I swear to God almighty if they pulled this stunt on me and any chick foolish enough to have married me it would be time for the powers that be over at this site to chalk up some more drug war deaths.




Can anybody else believe this outrageous audacity? TAKE THE FN body leave the pills. WTF man.

Cmon old dude get the hell out of that sick, twisted religious state. Sides old dude your an old dude, if your anglo saxon even luckier for you, head on down to Georgia (FLA is screwed now - oh, as some know, i am a nomadic junkie for a long time. a globetrotting junkie if you will. i was in FLA for a while when the good times started and i came back at the end - though i didnt know it was the end until i got there :o( ) and im sure you can find a good pain clinic with doctors who arent afraid.


uhh... as for the wife, damn... that sucks man. May she look out for you and all of us in Diacetylmorphine heaven. my heart goes out to a fallen opiate user in this dudes wife. its always the good who die, eh?


hey man, as Kurt once said about a Vanity Fair reporter ill say it about these cops, the DA and all those other bastards pulling this stunt out in the Brigham Young state. You all deserve to have your karma seriously broken.


I really hope you pieces of crap have wives or kids who get sick like this wonderful soul and i hope theyve got no recourse but to take opiates for pallative care. Whats more, your cops, so your nature is to be stupid. GOOD. I hope you get so f'n depressed over your sick wife or kids that you start stealing their pain pills to cope.


GOOD. In the end youll wind up on this site again, this time in the corrupt cops of the week section. EXCELLENT. Then you go to jail. Then a drug dealer makes you his ho. PERFECT. Then you get out. Dead wife or kids, emotionally scarred - then you come find me. You dont have cash or clout for pills anymore PARTNAH, so now you gotta F with the H. WONDERFUL.


But I can see through you - you're no good and you're evil. So I'll hot shot you. Then it all comes back here. Ex corrupt cop on the daily toll of drug war deaths.


couldnt happen to better people. Like Special K said - rot in hell.

wtf are you even talking

wtf are you even talking about

This just in!


"My fellow citizens, I literally don't care about your welfare. I have a military/pharmaceutical/prison industrial complex–and it's various components–to support. So regardless of how you may feel, or what you may wish, my problems will always trump your problems. I trust you will allow me to remain untainted and untouched by the unconscionable acts that I have committed on your behalf."


Sincerely yours,

President Obama

"Sincerely yours,President

"Sincerely yours,

President Obama"

I think you mean "every President since at least Nixon."

President Obama had

President Obama had absolutely NOTHING to do with this. He has signed no law making this action legal, nor has any of his policies made this a normal practice. Stop listening to right wing radio and start thinking for yourself.

Patriot Act/NDAA

The president has nothing to do with this? Please go read the Patriot Act and the NDAA (National Defende Authorization Act). Until you have, kindly refrain from talking. mmk? Thaaanks.

Patriot Act

The Patriot Act started under Bush, numbnuts.

Yes those Acts were created

Yes those Acts were created by the Bush Administration, but has Obama made any efforts to overturn them?  Doesn't that make him complicit with those expansions of executive power?

Listen to 'left-wing' radio instead, to think for yourself?

...what are you saying? Think the way you think?? Together you and yours constitute the single source of subject-matter expertise in affairs of any nature? Your media sources are not bought-and-paid for??

Sadly your mindset is the most dangerous of the bunch. You refuse to acknowledge your personal limitations, information, or understanding - you cant even face your own hypocrisy; rather you point the finger at everyone else. You grasp just enough un-vetted information to make yourself feel informed and semi-current. Can you possibly find it within yourself to forget the planks and platforms and partisanship. Abandon these classic divide-and-conquer techniques!!

Do your own homework - and next time you find yourself pointing the finger at anyone but yourself - introspect first - and remember youre doing exactly what these individuals want you to do. 

Consider this a call-to-action... Use your common sense. Get out of your comfort zone - enjoy socializing with individuals of different points of view - invest in yourself - embrace lively discussion - and for god sake dump the third grade insults and the labels.

Im fed up with the hubris. Permanently.

Your taxpayer money at work.

Your taxpayer money at work. Respect and dignity until you die then they steal your shit

Just so you know,

Oxycontin and Oxycodone are the same drug. Brand name and generic people, this just makes you look ignorant.

Umm no no they are not.

Umm no no they are not. Oxycotin is much closer to a synthetic morphine while Oxtcodone is generic for percacet. Please research before you jump.

I am a chemist and oxycodone

I am a chemist and oxycodone and Oxycontin are indeed the same drug, so don't tell others to do research when you are the one who needs to do it. Percocet contains oxycodone + Tylenol. Percodan is oxycodone + aspirin. It is possible to get generic oxycodone that does not contain either Tylenol or aspirin.

Another agenda...

Seems like the police officers were acting suspicious. I wonder how many unwarranted searches they have committed and how many times they reported finding the controlled substances. Seems to me that the Vernal P.D. might have some members with an opiate addiction.

Sad that those that have pledged to protect and serve the public mainly protect and serve themselves... 

Nothing Good can Come Out of Utah

The lack of dignity and respect shown by the Vernal pill-police to Mr. Mahaffey during his most private last moments with his deceased wife epitomizes an authoritarian attitude that pervades Utah culture and many other flyover territories in the U.S. that demean the individual in favor of the ideology and sanctity of the state.  Nothing exemplifies this fact better than the disposition of Utah’s severe anti-drug laws.  

Mr. Mahaffey’s mistreatment by the Vernal police is what the typical Berliner might have expected from the Nazis.  Even regular, law-abiding, German citizens were often treated like garbage.  The Germans’ personal value as a people was determined by their willful subjection and worshipful dedication to the nationalist state, and to virtually nothing else.  Individuality was condemned.  Social hierarchies were worshipped.  Suicide rates were severe.  The suicide rate remains high in Utah.

In the hands of backward cultures, drug enforcement becomes far more dangerous to its respective society.  Allowing the stupid and the incompetent to exercise an unlimited authority always produces harm.  We can expect more of this sort of thing from Utah, because even a big, slam-dunk lawsuit is unlikely to produce any change in Utah’s entrenched, dominionist ethos.

Prohibition is a Crime Against Humanity.


This is a worst case scenario.

This is bureaucracy gone mad.

The police have no place in health care at all. 

This case is further proof that prohibition is a crime against humanity.

How long will US citizens

How long will US citizens continue to put up with this sort of inhumane activity?

Wake up boys and girls - the land of the free has the highest incarceration rate in the world, entirely because of the US stance on drugs. Still think it's the land of the free?

Think again. Act now.

These crimes against humanity are being committed against your sons and daughters, your aunts and uncles, your grandparents. To those that uphold these Draconian laws, whose sole argument is 'we don't make the laws' - no, you don't make the laws - worse still, you freely chose to uphold them. Shame on you. 

Those cops must have some

Those cops must have some serious cravings for Opiates...LOL



Those were not "heavy duty" opiates as the author characterized them. I think Fentanyl is getting there. Anyways, is it worth that much to scrape up a few bottles of cheap ass drugs? I mean, the cost of sending cops out exceeds the value of the actual drugs in any objective sense.

A medical condition is not a crime.

Outlawing a medical condition is. Nowhere in the constitution does it provide for armed thugs to enforce governmental policy, with deadly force. Nor does it provide for governmental intervention in medical affairs. We have an illegitimate government. An unconstitutional government, a domestic enemy government, a terrorist government, a criminal government. This government is no longer beneficial, it's harmful and deadly. It has become destructive to those ends, it's time to alter or abolish this tyrannical form of government by whatever means necessary.

I have heard about similar stuff in the SE

I have heard reports of similar cop confiscation in AL, FL, GA, and other redneck states. Some of the better prepared people told me they stashed the extra meds and told the cops they were flushed. I did not hear about a full fledged search and seizure operation like this. I also wonder what % of the drugs were turned into the precinct. They occasionally have these turn in old drug programs around this area which are stupid to me. If the drugs were paid for and the person is dead, they could still do someone in the family some good. In the event of the breakdown of society, which is quite possible opiates will be more valuable than gold.  Fuck the cops and fight for your rights. Live free or die MF.  

I Hope Your Proud of Yourself Officer Douchebag

My heart goes out to this poor man ...lost his wife of 58 years, I can't imagine the pain he must feel. What the local police did to him is plain inhumane ..absolutely cruel , those officers should be ashamed of themselves. Karma will kick them square in the ass and when it does I hope they remember that this is why. Mr Mahaffey You sir are a better man than I....I can only imagine in a moment like that I may have done something equally irrational as the actions of the officers that day and most likely would have ended up in jail. Mr police officer(s) As I wish no ill will upon others I will only say this ..you should be ashamed of yourself and I hope you carry that shame for a very long time your moral character is far weaker than those you seak to keep those pills from and frankly I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire. Continue to hold yourself higher than others because the Statw of Utah gave you a badge but remember there is only one judge I hope he shows you the same compassion you so kindly showed Mr Mahaffey

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