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Home / Articles / News / News Articles /  Lane Heaps: Long Goodbye
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Lane Heaps: Long Goodbye

Death of ex-cop points to need for services

By Stephen Dark
Photo by Erik Daenitz // Lane Heaps, photographed for City Weekly in 2011
Posted // November 14,2012 -

When Lane Heaps was a graveyard patrol cop, he found an elderly transient crying under the freeway. An unidentified assailant had sliced her cheeks so deeply that “you could see her tonsils.” It was the sound the woman made that haunted him. “It was like, ‘I have to live this shitty life and put up with this, too? I’ve had enough of this. I’ve had enough of this life.’ ”

That was a philosophy that Heaps, a retired Salt Lake City Police Department officer, had come to understand all too well in recent years. By the time he died Oct. 15, 2012, of liver failure, the robust if melancholy man featured in the Feb. 10, 2011, City Weekly cover story “Burned Out Cop” was almost unrecognizable in the thin, unresponsive figure with a scraggly gray beard, lying in a hospital bed surrounded by family and friends. He was 51 years old.

SLCPD Chief Chris Burbank, Heaps’ friend, says, “Lane lived his life on his own terms. While it was very hard to see him in the state he became, it was his choice. In a lot of ways, you have to respect that.”

The liver failure was the result of decades of heavy drinking and pain pills. “Don’t worry,” Heaps told his second wife, Roslyn Rainey, also a police officer, “I won’t linger on; I know I’m ruining my liver.” That said, Rainey, who had separated from Heaps 18 months before his death, says he wasn’t suicidal. He would simply say, “Life is so hard; I can’t imagine not being better off dead.”

In the past four years, three serving SLCPD officers have committed suicide. Alcohol, a firearm and a precipitating event are the typical factors involved, Burbank says. Whether Heaps’ death was the culmination of a long suicide or simply the end of a tragic life of someone who felt betrayed by the job he so loved, it underscores the dire need for well-funded resources for troubled ex-cops.

But cops say there’s a lack of political will and money, along with a general apathy toward former officers struggling with retirement. “Cops probably wouldn’t participate in anything anyway,” says one cop acidly.

Both Burbank and Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder agree that the lack of resources available for outreach to retired cops is lamentable. “Honestly, there are no services available,” Winder says. “We’re trying to do something about it.”

While Burbank has an employee dedicated solely to officer care, Winder has brought in former politician Jackie Biskupski to head up a new initiative, the Utah Retired Police Officers Association, dedicated to giving retired cops a political voice. Among those sitting on the association’s committee is former Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard.

But even that move has hit a wall. Nobody has a list of who the retired cops are.

In contrast with fire department retirees, who still enjoy the camaraderie of former colleagues, cops, Winder says, “are hired as individual resources: They drive their cars, they work their beats,” resulting in a sometimes painful isolation post-retirement. Word rarely reaches serving cops when former colleagues die. “I didn’t know,” said Winder when informed of Heaps’ death.

The Feb. 10, 2011, City Weekly story, which depicted a man who’d fallen prey to alcohol abuse and prescription pain medications, didn’t necessarily benefit Heaps. He received a letter from the pain clinic he was attending, having struggled with chronic pain from back surgery complications for years, threatening to withdraw their clinical services. Days after the story came out, Heaps was also involved in a confrontation with Murray police officers called by a concerned neighbor to the dingy, two-room basement apartment where Heaps lived alone. The officers Tasered Heaps before they could subdue him. He took a plea in abeyance in September 2011 on a misdemeanor charge of interfering with a police officer.

Heaps had worked both vice and as a patrol officer on the graveyard “union squad” in the 1990s. Though Heaps had a reputation among some colleagues for being cold and intimidating, Burbank, then Heaps’ sergeant, learned of a different man at 3 a.m. They would park car-to-car and talk “about life, death, religion and our expectations of life. Those good times shaped who I am today, they shaped my leadership style, no question,” Burbank says.

When Heaps punched a handcuffed suspect who kicked at him, he was dismissed from the force and subsequently prosecuted by the district attorney, only for a jury to throw the case out.

“He dealt with a lot of demons, depression and anxiety after he was fired in 1999,” Rainey says. “He was an all-or-nothing person. He never let go of the injustice that he had to go through all of that.”

In the past few years, Burbank says, he urged Heaps to seek professional counseling, even offering to pay for it himself. But while Burbank can mandate that officers who’ve been part of a traumatic event go to Employee Assistance four times, he can’t do the same for retired officers who are struggling.

During Heaps’ marriage to Roslyn Rainey, she says, he was antisocial, avoiding family gatherings, preferring TV or golf with friends. But after they separated and he was alone in his apartment with just a semi-feral cat, Molly, for company, Heaps craved human contact. Until he could barely move without a wheelchair, he involved himself in the lives of the down and out—people, he would say, who understood him better than those in mainstream society.

He separated fights with his walking stick, and his apartment became an open living room for alcoholics and addicts until, Rainey says, five months ago, he started locking his door. “He realized so many of them were users. He was passed out drunk, and they were robbing him.”

Heaps had a low tolerance for flaws in others as well as in himself. That he acquiesced to people taking advantage of him flabbergasted Rainey. His response was, “If I don’t associate with them, I have no one.”

Despite the separation, Rainey continued to support him, visiting him, keeping his place clean. Heaps told her shortly before she left on a vacation to New Zealand that he was ready to die. She’d heard it so many times, it seemed no more than repetition. But while abroad, she received a phone call from her daughter that her husband was dying. She talked to him on the phone in his final hours.

At Heaps’ wake in Draper on Oct. 20, serving cops lined one corner wall while family and friends milled around the conference room. Rainey had set up a display including poems Heaps had written—“Black As Day,” “Paradox” and “Forever Falling”—along with a copy of his manuscript “Eights & Aces,” with a card from Truman Capote biographer Gerald Clarke noting his writing showed promise. There was a plaque from his vice-squad colleagues dedicated to Lane “Luther” Heaps and a copy of the Velvet Underground’s second album cover—a reminder of Heaps’ time as a music blogger for CityWeekly.net.

Rainey told the assembled mourners that Heaps talked about a death a lot. “He liked pushing things to the extreme,” whether it was physical confrontation or tact. But what was missing from people’s understanding of him was his complexity, the gentleness of his heart.

Among those who shared their memories of Heaps were his children. Get past Heaps’ “rough, tough exterior,” recalled one daughter, “and you could worm your way into his heart. Once there, you’ve got a place there forever.”

 
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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 25,2013 at 23:59

I spoke with Sgt. Heaps (Ret)  a few times after reading of his challenges as a police officer in CW.

He was receptive, kind, and giving of his insight to make my challenges "workable and noticed. "  To his family; I never experienced his tough exterior.  He was candid. His communications, placed his struggles in a pending status.

Mine we're his focus. I wish that wasn't the case. I wish I'd known more about his life. I regret I did not.

I felt as a civilian, he was deserving of his colleagues contributions in attendance at his memorial. Those who knew him best, understood his life, and work best, and I, my personal judgement pending, remembered him from afar and I regret so. . .

 

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 23,2013 at 20:01

I am glad that this story was made public so that attention will be brought to this problem.  Thank you Officer Heaps for allowing your story to be told.  It is an important one.  

It seems you wanted to do the right thing and you did.  Your sensitivity is something most people can not understand.  I wish that you had been served justice instead of what you got. RIP and I know God is blessing you now.

 

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // December 9,2012 at 21:59

Lane is my stepson and I love him very much.   I became even closer to him after his father passed away almost exactly a year before Lane passed.   I too saw a softer and gentler side of him in the months before his death.   He was a very talented, intelligent,  and articulate man.   I was impressed by his interest in the sports activities of his (step) niece Shelby and his (step) nephew Jordan, and the lively conversations he had with them.   I was also touched by his concern for his (step) sister Suz and her battle with cancer.   I am grateful for the opportunity we had to get to know him better.   I wish that we had been able to do more to make his life better.   I am grateful that he is finally at peace.  

 

Posted // December 10,2012 at 04:31 - I can't get this site to post my comment, so I'm going to piggyback it on my step-mother's comment. I am Lane's sister and was one of his best friends. He was so much more carefree prior to working for the police department. He spent time hang gliding, goofing with friends, and once even skiing off of a 100 ft. clift that landed him in the hospital. I think he would have been able to handle life more easily had he opted for a different career. Joining the police force was a choice made when he had a young family and needed to support them, instead of attend college. A correction must be made in that few people cared for him, not one. There was a time I would go to Lane's at least once a week, clean his home, do his grocery shopping and keep him company. Our step-mom Merlynne visited and cooked meals for him. The last 8 months our Aunt Marilyn took him a home cooked meal once a week, and straightened the house. Many thanks go to friends like Ken who continued to visit Lane when he was drunk 24/7 and not making sense. Others such as Regan and Deane gave him the ear he needed also. Lane went many years being suicidal. I was on suicide watch many nights, as well as other friends such as Lee. At the end he was not trying to kill himself quickly, but opted for the slow effects of alcohol on his liver and kidneys. Thank you for writing this article Stephen. Lane felt close to you after the time you spent with him before writing the first article. He saw you as a good friend.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // December 9,2012 at 16:42

I am a family member of Lane. Not saying who I am to avoid family conflict. Lane may not have been actively suicidal, but he did try to commit suicide more than once.  

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // December 9,2012 at 14:46

I am one of Lane's daughters and I just thought I should clarify some information. He died on October 21, 2012 not the 15. His service was October 29, 2012. Thank you for publishing this article about him. He really was such a kind and caring man, he just let very few people see that side of him. One of my most favorite memories I have with him shows that gentle side. He always called me M. I never once in my entire life heard him call me by whole name. I don't know of many dads who keep their little girls in their hearts like that for so many years, so to have it from a man with such a rough exterior means the world to me.  

 

 
 
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