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This story first ran June 13, 2007
A former Salt Lake City narcotics sergeant who resigned last year after failing a drug test has pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of attempted prescription fraud.
Ryan Atack - who faces a hearing Thursday on the status of his police certification - pleaded guilty last Friday to a misdemeanor charge stemming from an incident in which he attempted to use an expired prescription in American Fork.
On Feb. 18, a pharmacist at a Smith's grocery store called police when Atack tried to buy Valium and the pain reliever Ultram, American Fork Police Chief Lance Call said.
Atack was charged with the crime on June 5 in 4th District Court. Three days later, Atack, acting as his own attorney, entered a guilty plea in abeyance. That means the charge will be dismissed if Atack does not break the law within 18 months, pays $750 in fees, completes 50 hours of community service and undergoes drug treatment.
It was unclear this week what effect Atack's troubles would have on drug cases he helped bring to prosecutors as a detective.
A 14-year veteran of the police department, Atack, 38, joined the narcotics unit as a sergeant in March 2004.
Co-workers reported Atack showed "signs of impairment" while on the job last July, prompting a drug test, said police spokesman Jeff Bedard. Atack resigned that month, Bedard said.
The spokesman declined to specify the substance found in Atack's system.
Reached by telephone at home Wednesday, an angry Atack said he resigned from the department three days after being put on administrative leave with the understanding that the results of his drug test would be kept private. He declined to discuss his troubles further.
Bedard said it was unknown how long Atack had been using drugs or if he had taken drugs on the job.
Police Chief Chris Burbank said no other officers were involved. Asked whether Atack used drugs on the job, the chief would only say: "There is a big difference if it is on-duty or off. . . . We're not talking anything that spectacular. It's one isolated incident in many, many years."
The status of cases Atack handled as a sergeant over the department's narcotics unit for two years remains in question. Defense attorneys said a review of past and current cases involving Atack might be in order.
"They [police and prosecutors] have a big problem here," defense attorney Susanne Gustin said. "I don't think they could go forward with any kind of case if he was using [drugs] at the time."
The trouble might extend to court cases that already have been adjudicated, attorneys said. Defendants in cases involving Atack might seek new trials, they said.
Gustin said Atack would have "zero" credibility in a courtroom if he were called to testify about his role in a drug investigation. The fact that he supervised the narcotics unit makes matters worse, Gustin said, because all cases under him would be tainted.
Defense attorney Greg Skordas disagreed, saying Atack's drug use could affect only cases in which Atack had a direct role, such as making a buy or an arrest.
Stephen McCaughey, also a defense attorney, said he would also argue Atack's alleged drug use was grounds to toss a case against a client arrested by Atack.
"If he was using while he made an arrest or when he made any buys, then I think definitely it would be pertinent," McCaughey said.
But Steven Shapiro, of the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association, said drug convicts still would have a difficult time erasing their convictions. In many cases, appeal times have lapsed, and there were other evidence and witnesses incriminating the defendant.
Cop drug use is "kind of a sexy thing to bring up to a jury, but for the most part, I'm not sure it will make a lot of difference."
Bedard said the police department did not contact prosecutors or defense attorneys after Atack tested positive.
"That's going to be something for the courts to figure out," Bedard said. "All I can say is that as a police department, we did what we were supposed to do. Everything else is really out of our hands."
Robert Stott, spokesman for Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, declined to say how many open cases the office has involving Atack or whether any cases could be affected. The U.S. Attorney's Office has not handled any drug cases involving Atack, spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said.
In 2002, the city's Exchange Club named Atack officer of the year for his work with the task force. The same year, Atack was one of four recipients of the police department's Distinguished Service Medal.
Utah's bureau of Peace Officer Standards and Training, which certifies officers, will announce Thursday whether Atack will lose his certification.