By Stephen Dark
The following story was reported by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with The Deseret News.
One late June 2021 afternoon, Carbon County victim advocate Denna Fausett drove to Mesquite, Nevada. She picked up 25-year-old Josie Powell at the trailer park she lived in and brought her back to downtown Price, Carbon County, in central Utah.
The two women met with prosecutor Dominique Kiahtipes so they could prep Powell for the witness stand. It was clear to both women that Powell was scared and nervous. Powell had waited more than two years for justice after a brutal sexual assault by her then-boyfriend, Taylor Goodall. Kiahtipes handed Powell the March 2019 statement she’d made to local cops. She stared at the paper blindly, then in tears handed it back. “I don’t remember anything,” she said, apologizing profusely.
That night, Fausett asked veteran Carbon County Sheriff’s Office detective Wally Hendricks to put Powell through “the program.” Along with his younger detective partner and protege, Travis Henrie, and a third detective, Hendricks handles thefts, burglaries, robberies, fraud and property crimes in a jurisdiction that covers Price, five small rural towns and 20,000 souls. The program is an approach to law enforcement working with deeply traumatized domestic violence and sexual assault survivors that Hendricks personally evolved over several decades. Rather than pursuing their assailants, what he and Henrie focus on is helping victims process their trauma, rebuild their lives and then — only then — if the victim wants to go forward, gather the necessary evidence to file charges. The program can involve meeting with a survivor over weeks, months or sometimes even years, to listen to them as they try to articulate what happened, build trust and connect with them.
With Powell’s testimony rescheduled for the next day, Hendricks had to do a crash-course version of the program if Kiahtipes’ case wasn’t to fall apart for lack of her key witness. He met with Powell the next morning in the courthouse. He could tell she was locked in a state of crisis and unprocessed trauma stemming from Goodall’s assault. In fight-or-flight mode, the blood had fled from her face to her muscles. She was hyperventilating, unable to form coherent sentences, physically present but mentally lost.
Hendricks threw her softball questions. Where did she live? In a Mesquite, Nevada, trailer park with her baby daughter. Did she work? At a liquor store and she loved it. Hendricks shared a few personal stories. He asked her to look at his hands, his knuckles, his nose, simple acts that would kick in her brain’s logic and rein in her fears.
“The thing about you,” he said, “is you take advantage of the fact people think you’re dumb.” She nodded. “But you’re not fooling me, honey, I’ve got boots older than you. You’re probably the smartest person in this room. Other than me.” Powell bent over in guffaws.
The cases he’d found best suited to the program — it’s lack of a formal name reflective of how Hendricks and Henrie developed it organically on their own — were victims traumatized by long histories of physical, emotional and psychological abuse by family members or others. And when they had gone to relatives, friends or law enforcement for help, they had not found anyone who would believe them. Over time, they’d come to trust no one.
Normally, Hendricks and Henrie would wait for however many meetings it took for the victim to get to a place of security, of self-esteem where she herself brought up the idea of prosecuting her abuser. That wasn’t an option with Powell.
Hendricks told her he knew what had gone through her mind as Goodall attacked her. There was a moment, he continued, as if the world suddenly stopped. She stared at him. “That’s that momentary feeling of paralysis, indecision. Your brain’s ability to process normal logical thoughts ceases. You can’t make your arms move, you literally forget how to breathe.”
Dumbfounded, she said, “How do you know?”
“That’s how normal people respond to trauma,” he told her. And if unaddressed, it came back as post-traumatic stress disorder, hitting the victim again and again with a cascade of anguish and questions, an experience he compared to living in an avalanche. “What’s wrong with me?” … “I’m losing my mind.” That, he said, “is the turd that never flushes. We can help you flush the turd.”
As they talked over an hour or so, color came back to her features, her slurred pronunciation became concise, her crumpled body posture ramrod straight. Out of nowhere, she remembered making her statement. “You know, this is really weird, but I’m kind of excited to do this.” Later she added, smiling, “I haven’t felt this good in years.”
Kiahtipes told Hendricks she’d never file another case with a victim who had not been through the program. But Powell was far from out of the woods. Hendricks warned Fausett to pay attention to her mood swings. “We need to get her at her best portion of her thinking brain,” he told her. “When she starts catastrophizing, slipping back into her trauma, block that, change the subject, talk about French fries, it doesn’t matter.”
Badge of honor
The Carbon County Sheriff’s detectives’ office is squirreled away in a senior center on the outskirts of Price, a town that in the early 1900s was a magnet for miners from Europe, Asia and South America keen to work the coal shafts. Despite the dwindling demand for fossil fuels, there’s still employment at the mines, still jobs at the railroad and in farming. But these days, the bigger employers tend to be retail, health care and education. Whatever the source of income, Hendricks said the town’s identity never shifts. “It’s a proudly blue-collar community.”
If it wasn’t for the holstered handgun tucked under their sheriff’s badges, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hendricks and Henrie were social workers or therapists from their passionate advocating for listening as a law enforcement tool — except, that is, for their eyes taking everything in.
Hendricks said his role was “to successfully prosecute monsters. Would you rather do that with a witness who can’t remember anything due to trauma or with a witness where it’s their idea to take the stand?”
The police body camera footage of a visibly distraught Gabby Petito struggling to talk to Moab police officers, while her boyfriend Brian Laundrie projected a calm and lack of concern, revealed that the cops almost charged her with assault before separating them for the night. Petito later went missing, while Laundrie returned home; the remains of both were found weeks later. Petito’s case received national publicity, but thousands of cases with similar law enforcement failures to dig deep enough to uncover what was actually going on, followed exactly the same tragic trajectory.
There is another way, Hendricks and Henrie said. “We teach officers this on a daily basis,” Hendricks said. “If I am meeting with a domestic violence and sexual assault victim and my goal is to obtain information of the crime, then I’m doing harm. But if the goal is to create a human connection prior to details, then we’re doing a pretty good thing. It is that simple.”
Carbon County Sheriff Jeff Wood described the program as “confidence building. It basically gives the victim or witness the confidence to step up and face their perpetrator in court with the security of knowing law enforcement has their back.” He later phrased it in more empathetic terms. “Everybody’s treated like everyone has a mother that loves them somewhere.”
Instead of the typical domestic violence or rape cases where law enforcement speed through investigation, charges and arrest, only for the case to dramatically slow down as it inches its way through the criminal justice system to trial, the Carbon County detectives do the exact opposite. With the blessing of the county prosecutor, Hendricks said, they slowed the process down at the beginning with the interaction between investigator and survivor. It is only when the survivor says she is ready for charges to be filed against her perpetrator that the prosecutorial clock starts ticking.
Fittingly for a lanky rural cop in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a fair likeness to Sam Elliott, it’s an old cowboy saying that spoke to what Hendricks argued was at the program’s core: You dance with who brung ya. Meaning that, with the exception of addressing trauma and self-esteem, they had no interest in changing their victims’ lives. “We don’t care if they move back in with their offender,” Hendricks said. “We don’t care if they’re using drugs again. We don’t care if they’re a prostitute. We dance with who brung us.”
An avalanche of grief
Mysha Blair had called the cops six times on her common-law partner’s escalating physical, psychological and sexual abuse of her. After the first officer from a small, local police department near Price had sympathetically listened to her, subsequent officers had taken a different tack. Four of the six times, the same officer had responded to her call. Blair and her partner would be screaming at each other, then the moment the cop turned up, her partner, as if flipping a switch, would become calm and pleasant, while Blair was sobbing and incoherent. The cop refused to look at her protective order unless she agreed to a domestic violence citation for her as well as her partner. She agreed, the cop cited them both, then looked at the order and arrested the partner for violating court-ordered restrictions. But with a domestic violence charge on her record, Blair couldn’t get work and her kids were taken briefly into protective care.
Finally, she had given up on ever being heard. Not that this was the first time. Both as a child and adult she had been sexually assaulted and abused. No one was willing to listen to her cries for help, her demands for justice.
Worse was to come. Blair recalled how in spring 2020 she told victim advocate Fausett that her partner had masturbated to porn while in the presence of their toddler, and that in terror of what he might yet do she had reported it to the state. Several months later, she contacted Fausett again to say nothing had been done about his actions and he was now allowed unsupervised visits with their baby. Fausett persuaded Blair to talk to the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office. “Why tell it to more guys who aren’t going to care?” Blair said, but her concern for her baby overrode all her other fears and she followed through with Fausett’s plan.
When she sat down in June with Henrie, because she felt she couldn’t trust let alone look any man in the eyes, she only looked at his shoes as she bawled, screamed, cried, yammered, ranted nonstop, incoherent, jumping from one memory to another, unloading three decades of being victimized and abused at such speed he could not pick out individual words, let alone statements. All they wanted, he told her, was the opportunity for another meeting.
“They got all 30 years of emotion based on this one short time frame with one guy who did bad things,” Blair said. “They got everything. Everything nobody ever listened to me for, everything that got dismissed, all that emotion just got dumped out.”
In her torrent of despair, accusations and boiling-point frustrations, the cops saw someone on the verge of suicide. “Her brain was working in a cascade of uncontrollable, unintelligible, catastrophic statements exploding for solid minutes at a time,” Hendricks said. “That portion of her brain was so consumed with trauma that it overrode everything else.” He compared her to a covey of quail erupting from cover as hunters approached. “There can be 50 birds going faster than the speed of sound and they all flush at once and you’re like, ‘(Expletive).’ That’s Mysha.”
Where Hendricks and Blair began to connect was over their shared rural lifestyle. They talked about horses, their care and nature, riding and country life. Slowly, over five weekly meetings, she started to calm down with someone she realized wasn’t out to manipulate her or force her to say something she didn’t want to, but rather wanted to hear her story. “We’re not going to force you to do anything, not pursue any charges until you’re ready,” Hendricks told her.
By the fifth meeting, Blair could start to enunciate words, order her thoughts. She gave them her files, police reports, state agency reports, and as the two cops investigated, interviewing relatives, state agents, her then-partner, and abuser, they found that all her complaints and allegations were true. Blair felt a sense of affirmation. She wasn’t insane after all.
Hendricks pushed Blair to identify her “price tag,” something that if taken from her would anger her. She brought up a saddle she had had since age 14 that she gifted to a child to use, only for a relative of her former partner to pawn it. As they talked, she went from feeling victimized to suddenly furious about the saddle, which was gone for good.
“Remember that the next time you think about yourself and what belongs to you,” Hendricks said. “Your body belongs to you. Don’t let anybody steal your saddle, it’s your saddle and it’s not OK they took it.”
The detectives’ impact on Blair wasn’t limited to incarcerating her former husband, after a plea deal, to a short jail sentence for half of the 30 protective order violations he had committed over several years. They also worked on her self-esteem. She told them she didn’t go to the local Maverik store to buy cigarettes because her perpetrator went there. Could they go with her, they asked? The first time, while the cops wandered around the store, she bought a soda, shaking uncontrollably. They suggested going to another Maverik. The second time was easier. Months later, she decided to enter Maverik on her own. Instead of using the drive-in, she told herself, “Your butt’s going in there by yourself.” And she did.
Each time Blair sees the detectives, she said, she hugs them, a simple act that meant so much to her after years of having lost trust in the entire gender. To be able to trust a man again, “means a lot to me. These men are there to protect you. They give a great deal of hope. I trust them.”
Blair argued that every department should have detectives like Hendricks and Henrie to answer the question, “Are we handling this right?” Individual police officers didn’t know what a domestic violence situation looked like, she said. “I didn’t know and I was in one.”
A fork in the road
Something of Price’s small-town, rural heritage is deliberately reflected in the décor of the cops’ open plan office. If the baseball mitt on the wall above Henrie’s desk catches a survivor’s eye, he shares his passion for coaching a sport that’s dominated Price life for 100 years. If the Winchester repeat rifle above Hendricks snares a victim’s gaze, most times they’ll talk about how as a child she hunted rabbits with her grandfather. That’s what the program is, said Hendricks: making a connection.
Hendricks and Henrie both came to policing for income stability and benefits to support their family rather than fighting crime. In their early years as cops, they also had similar experiences with domestic violence calls. Hendricks bleakly summarized those calls. The perpetrator had been arrested; they told the victim to leave him, to give them a statement and that they would get her out of the abusive relationship. But the victim, he continued, had heard all the promises so many times before, as well as felt the pressure to give up her abusive partner. She’d just want the cops gone, whether out of lack of trust of law enforcement, fear of her perpetrator, or the loss of his income, housing or even her children. She’d tell them the bare minimum and they’d drive away thinking, Henrie said, “’If she doesn’t pull her head out of her (expletive), we’re going to find her in a ditch someday,’ and supposedly we’d leave with a clear conscience.”
Hendricks had his wake-up call when it came to domestic violence and rape cases in 1997 when he was a patrol cop in Duchesne County, in northeast Utah. A high school friend was assaulted by her live-in boyfriend. Hendricks arrested the man, interviewed the victim, filed charges. The day before the trial was to start, the woman came into the police station, swore at him and said, “I’m not doing this,” and vanished. A shocked Hendricks tried to understand what had happened. Over the following years, he attended domestic violence conferences, talked to advocates and started listening to victims. “We’re expecting them to get with our program and they’re not,” he said. “So why don’t we change? Make it about the victim. So instead of this being our idea to prosecute her offender, why don’t we create an environment for her where it becomes her idea?”
In 2006 he joined the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office so his disabled son could access services in Price he’d aged out of in Duchesne. In then-Carbon County prosecutor Jeremy Hume, Hendricks found someone who shared his preoccupations. Hume had been alarmed at how low the level of reporting of domestic violence and sex crimes by victims was compared to every other type of crime. With federal funds to tackle violence against women, he hired attorney Dominique Kiahtipes to prosecute misdemeanor and felony domestic violence and sex assault cases.
Kiahtipes believed the low reporting was due to under-resourced beat cops covering multiple small towns and focusing on low-hanging fruit. “I suspect they knew they were missing or looking over the larger cases that needed more effort,” she said.
Both Kiahtipes and Carbon County Sheriff Wood praised victim advocate Fausett for being, as Wood said, the glue that held the program together. “She is the most vital component to me. She interacts with the victim from the very beginning to the very end” of the criminal justice system, and then works on issues such as getting them therapy and helping them access reparations.
A 14-year veteran of Carbon County Sheriff’s Office, Fausett worked with women often “really reluctant to go talk to another law enforcement man,” she said. In those cases which she and Hendricks felt the survivor might benefit from the program, she had to build rapport and trust up front to get them to talk to Hendricks. “Victims are scared of law enforcement, of what’s going to happen to their kids, their perpetrator,” Fausett said. “So being more involved with victims makes a difference. It makes them feel empowered because law enforcement cares about them and they are there to help them, not just make an arrest and move on.”
Talking to the back of her head
In January 2018, patrol officer Travis Henrie was promoted to detective to work alongside Hendricks. What Hendricks liked about Henrie was he wanted to do the right thing, no matter how unpopular it might be with others. The two couldn’t be more different. As much as Hendricks sometimes emotes with a theatrical, booming intensity as if pining for a life on the stage, the stockily built and equally intense Henrie is otherwise his partner’s opposite, quiet and introverted, a growler with watchful eyes who, outside of his work, can often be found on a municipal field, coaching kids’ baseball.
A month after he started with Hendricks, they attended a monthly meeting of local officials to discuss child abuse and neglect cases. Attendees included Utah Department of Child and Family Services’ case workers, therapists, attorneys and victim advocates. One man threw a thick file on a then 16-year-old female onto the table with a dismissive shrug. The cop had written her off as a liar and a criminal. Others in the group complained that she was violent, disruptive and impossible to help.
Henrie browsed the file of this “horror story” named Tia Brown. As a child, Brown had been raped several times, one of the two assailants having gone to prison, the other to jail. Brown, now 20, said as a child she’d refused therapy “because nobody understood. I didn’t want to talk to anybody about it. I didn’t trust anybody to help me.” It was hardly surprising Brown trusted no one, Henrie would later think, given the judgment she had faced from those charged with helping her.
Brown got into trouble at school, repeatedly appeared in juvenile court and hated cops. “I never had a good experience with them. They have a way that things are gonna go in their head and that’s what they push for. They don’t accept anything else.” By age 16, not only was Brown “running on the streets,” Henrie said, she also faced four charges of assaulting cops.
In Brown’s file, Henrie found a list of eight men, all with criminal histories, who were suspected of having sexually abused Brown from the age of 12. None of them had been interviewed, let alone charged. The detectives said they wanted to interview her.
When Hendricks and Henrie visited Brown for the first time, she was in a secure juvenile facility in Salt Lake City, with her therapist in attendance. She sat cross-legged on a chair with her back to them. Instead of questions, the cops brought pizza, soda and candy. They talked to the back of her head. “They didn’t push me into anything,” Brown said. Eventually she turned around. “The first time we talked, they just wanted to hang out with me and get to know me a little bit,” she said.
The power of a simple, purposeful human connection astonished Henrie. “It became apparent that we were the only men in her life that had not tried to take advantage of her.” By fall 2021, nine men, including her stepfather who’d bring her to interviews with the detectives, had been investigated for assaulting her, prosecuted and locked up.
All she wanted was to be happy, Brown said. By November 2021, she was living in Iowa with a relative, sober and looking for work. She knew she had the cops to turn to for advice, if needed. “They’ve helped me through a lot of things that weren’t even their responsibility to help me with,” she said, including accessing mental health services. “Just kind of guiding me, like, you know, pointing me in the right direction. I don’t think there’s a time that I meet up with Wally he isn’t preaching to me about going to college.”
A bold step
Approaches such as “the program” aren’t necessarily new. What’s called coordinated community response dated back to the early 1980s and focused on ensuring that a survivor “feels safe to participate in the entire criminal legal system from the point that they call the police to the end,” said Brooke Meyer, director for the Dallas-based Institute of Coordinated Community Response. She worked with rural Texas counties to improve systemic responses to domestic violence by sponsoring and training local teams made up of an advocate, a detective and a prosecutor. With no standardized national approach behind the introduction of trauma-informed approaches to victim participation in the criminal justice system, it was left to enlightened department heads to encourage rank and file to embrace it. Inevitably, that can feel from “a national perspective, like nothing’s being done,” said Meyer.
When it comes to rural communities, both law enforcement and survivors can face significant challenges, including geographical isolation, lack of anonymity for victims, little access to funding or trauma-informed training, or help to review and revise policies and procedures. Kiahtipes argued there’s a flip side to that coin, however. It’s the very close-knit nature of rural life that can lead to creative solutions such as “the program.”
What made Hendricks’ and Henrie’s approach particularly unusual was its origins in the rank and file, rather than administration. Mark Wynn is a former police officer, domestic violence investigator and acclaimed international lecturer on trauma-informed policing. He met Hendricks and Henrie in Richfield, Utah, in summer 2021 while lecturing on prioritizing violence against women in policing.
They were slowing down the investigative process, Hendricks and Henrie told him, so it could be more trauma-informed, more victim-centric. That was the same message Wynn sought to convey to his audiences. To have two rural cops say it out loud in the middle of his class, on their own, modeling those values to peers who might see the value in what Wynn proposed but didn’t know how to make it happen, validated his message.
To Wynn it appeared they had taken on changing the culture in a police department when it came to dealing with trauma. “It’s a bold step for a rural police department to make. It’s not just innovative and courageous. They’re bringing a higher standard to policing on their own. This is them doing it. So that’s a big deal.”
The detectives and the department have not gathered statistics on the informal program, but Hendricks estimated that they had worked successfully with close to 100 victims. The program can sometimes take months or years to bear prosecutorial fruit. Such complexity can make its impact difficult to quantify. In addition, domestic violence cases and crimes are difficult to track in general.
Each year the Bureau of Criminal Identification assembles a report on crime in Utah. While there is a section dedicated to analysis of domestic violence, the report notes that “There is not a domestic violence offense” in the national reporting guidelines. Trying to get rural domestic violence statistics is equally challenging. A request for data on rural Utah domestic violence incidents to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition was forwarded to the state, which historically has maintained domestic violence statistics. However Ned Searle, director of the Office on Domestic and Sexual Violence at the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, noted that, “To my knowledge due to lack of funding, CCJJ does not have any current data on domestic violence.” Nine years before, he continued, he would contact agencies involved in domestic violence for information, a relationship that others, he added, were attempting to restart for 2022.
Justin Boardman is a former sex crimes detective turned national consultant on trauma-informed policing. When he was a cop, Boardman says part of his struggle with his administration was demonstrating the impact his work had not only on victims but their community. He said it’s not an approach that can easily be explained, yet alone quantified. Henricks’ and Henrie’s “ripple effect (in Carbon County) is enormous, not only on the victims but also their community,” Boardman said. “They are doing so much prevention work that you can’t measure.” Under a perpetrator’s control, a victim may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, lose their job, end up on welfare, or traffic themselves. “You stop that spiral into hurting yourself, and in the process your community is getting healthier.”
Taking back her life
When it comes to punishment within the criminal justice system, that typically comes down to the survivor’s determination not only to prosecute her abuser, but to take the stand. The morning Josie Powell was to testify against her assailant, she found Hendricks and Henrie waiting for her in a room for witnesses in the courthouse.
At Hendricks’ suggestion, she read aloud her graphic 2019 statement. The two cops, several advocates and a reporter listened. “That was (expletive) hard,” she said when she finished. Hendricks reminded her she was in control. In their conversation the day before, when he had asked her what she valued, what her “price tag” was, the passionate video gamer had referenced her TV. He told her that her testimony that day was about “getting your television back.”
She told him she felt like she was already getting her life back. For two years it had felt like she had lost herself. “Now I feel like my soul’s coming back to me.”
If she needed time to answer a question, ask the attorney to repeat it, Hendricks told her.
Powell took the stand, her voice filling the witness room via a speaker as the detectives listened, unable to go into the courtroom due to pandemic restriction. As prosecutor Kiahtipes took Powell through the night she was assaulted, unlike when she first met with the prosecutor, now she responded with measured diction. It was only when she got to the assault that she stumbled.
“Come on, come on,” Hendricks urged under his breath.
“Can you repeat the question?” she asked. Finally, she pushed through the graphic details. She told the court she had felt scared, disgusted, violated and betrayed. She had loved Goodall and wanted the relationship to work. “When people bullied him, I was there for him. I was there through thick and thin.” In a tiny, cracking voice she said, “This was the thanks I got, you know? Like, who does that?”
After Kiahtipes finished her questioning, Powell came back to the witness room.
“How many televisions did you get?” Hendricks asked, laughing. “You got a little greedy up there.”
“A 4K TV,” she said. “Nice digital surround sound.” She let out a smoker’s exhale. “He wouldn’t even look at me.”
“Want to know why?” Henrie said. “He expected you to cower down and not say anything and when he saw you being powerful up there, that hit him.”
“That gave me an adrenaline rush,” she said. “I started crying, then I thought I don’t feel like crying any more. I don’t feel scared. …”
Hendricks leaned forward. “So who comes off the stand testifying about their rape and says it was an adrenaline rush?”
Powell stared at him. “Is that bad?”
“That’s awesome. That’s how it should be. Steal my TV you (expletive) and I’ll tell on ya.”
The jury agreed. The following day they found Goodall guilty of two first-degree felonies, forcible sodomy and object rape. In September he was sentenced to five year to life at the state prison.
For a man who chases monsters, Hendricks’ final goal was Powell taking back her life. He had the confirmation he needed shortly after she returned to the stand to face Goodall’s defense attorney. At one point Powell talked over the lawyer so she could finish an answer.
“Overruled the attorney,” Hendricks said with a laugh. “We can go now. Our work here is done.”
Free to read not to report. If you enjoyed this article and would like to support more investigative and solutions journalism reporting like it, please consider making a tax-deductible donation by visiting utahinvestigative.org/donate.