Ex-officer kills himself in jail cell — (Deseret Morning News)

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Deseret Morning News

Friday, April 21, 2006

By Sara Israelsen, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Clad in an inmate jumpsuit, Art Henderson sat alone in a cell.  For 47 hours, he had nothing but concrete walls to keep him company.

Every two days, he was allowed to leave the cell for one hour to shower and make phone calls.  That was Henderson’s life in maximum security at Salt Lake Metro Jail.

Alone in his cell Wednesday night, he hanged himself with a bedsheet.

Henderson, the former Lehi police officer accused of shooting his estranged wife’s boyfriend before having a shootout with Lehi police officers, was miserable in jail, said his attorney, Ed Brass.

“He expressed his inability to handle the conditions under which he was incarcerated — repeatedly,” Brass said.

In jail, Henderson had a lot of time to ruminate on his life — a pending second divorce, his wife’s new relationship with another man, the revocation of his certification to be a police officer and, if convicted of charges against him, the possibility of life in prison.

The charges in 4th District Court stemmed from a snowy day in January when he chased Natalie Barnes Henderson and her boyfriend, Craig Trimble, down a Lehi street, firing at them.

After ramming the couple’s car, Henderson shot Trimble twice, then turned his gun on Lehi officers arriving at the scene in squad cars.

The rampage ended when officers took him down with shots to the knee and foot.

Thoughts of that day’s events — and the events that came before and after — may have just been too much for Henderson, Brass said.

“My suspicion is that this is the product of some sort of overwhelming depression,” Brass said. “He loved his kids so much — I think he must have been in some dark place that didn’t allow him to stop and think about the fact that his kids would lose him.”

After the shooting, Henderson spent a night at American Fork Hospital, then was taken to the Salt Lake County Metro Jail, where he had been since. He was not taken to the Utah County Jail because he had previously worked there as a guard.

Upon arrival, Henderson was evaluated for any perceived suicidal tendencies, said Salt Lake County Sheriff Sgt. Paul Jaroscak. He was put on suicide watch but taken off that list in February when health-care personnel believed he was safe to move out of the jail’s health service unit.

Henderson was assigned to maximum security because of the severity of the charges and because inmates often retaliate against incarcerated former police officers. He had been charged with five counts of attempted aggravated murder, one count of aggravated assault, another of domestic violence-related criminal mischief and three counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm.

Officials did not notice signs of distress this week, Jaroscak said.

“I’m sure if he had expressed some sort of suicidal tendencies, he would have been immediately taken to the (medical health) unit,” he said.

Even Brass, who talked with Henderson a week ago, said he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

“I know he’s been extremely depressed for some significant period of time, (but) his demeanor has always been largely the same,” he said.

Officials found Henderson unconscious in his cell around 11:05 p.m. Wednesday. He pieced ripped bed sheets together to make a rope.

Jail officials immediately began CPR and called for backup. Henderson was transported to St. Mark’s Hospital and pronounced dead almost 35 minutes later.

Officers had last seen him 45 minutes before, during routine checks.

Henderson had pleaded not guilty to the felony charges, and trial was scheduled to start in July.

Brass said he was preparing a legal defense based on Henderson’s statements indicating he had stopped taking anti-depressants shortly before the Jan. 27 incident.

Brass said that people who stop taking anti-depressants abruptly often suffer severe effects and end up in worse condition than before.

Henderson was not himself that day, Brass said.

Brass said Henderson told him he couldn’t remember some crucial details of the chase, shooting or shootout.

“Our feeling in this case was that — again we were just getting into it — that there were mental and chemical conditions beyond his control that led him to do some things that were out of his control,” Brass said. “What we were going to do was to raise a mental health defense based on his state of mind, in the removal of medications.”

The Lehi Police Department, where Henderson worked from 2000 to 2004, expressed condolences.

“Obviously, we feel for the family during this tragic time,” said Lehi Police Sgt. Jeff Swenson. “It’s a tough thing to deal with.”

A family member said Thursday she wished Henderson could have received the mental health treatment he so desperately needed.

She also said the family was tired of seeing the scene replayed and wanted to deal privately with the loss.

Brass said he will file a motion to dismiss the charges.

“Art actually was a pretty decent human being,” Brass said. “He was very troubled emotionally, obviously. He tended to see things in black-and-white terms and thought that this gentleman that he shot had mistreated his children, and he was angry about that.

“It’s unfortunate that this is the way he will be remembered.”

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company