Editor’s note: This story discusses sexual assault. If you need to report or discuss a sexual assault, you can call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.
When Valarie Clark Miller went to the Utah Department of Public Safety in 1990, she was terrified but ready to report that she had been raped for years as a teenager by a state Highway Patrol officer in her small northern Utah town.
Investigators assured her they’d look into her claims. They said that it was the most serious set of allegations they’d ever heard levied against a trooper.
Today, the department concedes those staffers never did anything to investigate — and that it found disturbing evidence of a cover-up to hide that fact.
In a letter sent to Valarie’s family this week, current DPS Commissioner Jess Anderson acknowledges the department’s investigators failed the woman when she came to them more than 30 years ago, dismissing her within weeks without doing any actual work. And he apologized for that.
“I have concluded that the factual allegations you raise … and subsequent communications about DPS actions in 1990 rest on a foundation of extensive and disturbing evidence,” wrote Anderson, who did not work for the department at the time, in a copy of the letter shared with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Anderson promised that while policies have changed since then, he will move forward with having the entire department, including the Utah Highway Patrol, audited to “avoid repetition of an event like this from ever occurring.”
It’s an unprecedented response from the state to decades of trauma that have been passed down as an unwanted inheritance in the Miller family. But to Valarie’s kids and husband, John Miller — prominent Utah businessman and founder of development company Dakota Pacific — it amounts to vindication.
They have fought for years to uncover what happened to Valarie, starting with the assaults she said she experienced in Clarkston in Cache Valley beginning around 1968, and up through 1990 when she tried to report them with her husband, who recalls with pain the worsening effect that the lack of investigation had on Valarie’s post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now, five years after Valarie’s early death at the age of 61 from multiple sclerosis — which her family believes was hastened by the trauma she experienced — they finally feel they’ve been able to turn what became generations of pain into a small bit of justice.
“I saw a person’s life that was wasted because of the horrific abuse she suffered,” John said in an interview with The Tribune. “She wasn’t really well for most of her life. … And these things don’t end with one person. They’re perpetuated. Everybody is affected by it.”
Ryan Miller, Valarie’s son, said he grew up watching his mother withering from sadness and anxiety, to the point that she could barely parent. He said he and his sisters, Anne, Erin, and Brooke, often had to step up to take care of themselves.
One year, the siblings visited her together at a mental health hospital for the holidays, where she apologized for not being the mom she wanted to be. Ryan was about the same age then, at 13, as Valarie said she was when the abuse started.
John, her husband, said Valarie was never able to heal from the assaults. And it haunted her into adulthood, leading her to hit her head against the walls of their home until she bled and to attempt taking her life several times.
The wife he loved, John said, started turning to prescription drugs to cope with the panic attacks. She was a shell of a person, he said, due to the pain, always on the verge of cracking.
In 2020, in an effort to find some peace after Valarie’s death, the family hired a private investigator. He discovered through interviews with DPS staff from the time that they had tried to bury Valarie’s report of the repeated rapes. Late last year, the family filed a notice of intent to sue the state with that information and began drafting a lawsuit.
They ultimately decided not to file, John said, when Commissioner Anderson’s staff began their own investigation and later said they were able to validate what the family knew about Valarie’s experience and the failure to take her concerns seriously.
Anderson wrote in his letter: “I have agonized over the events you described and the generational impact on your family.”
The UHP trooper has since died, so the family didn’t expect any kind of action against him. All they wanted, John said, was that apology, for the years that the trauma continued because of the state’s neglect.
“She never received any sort of justice,” Ryan said. “So we did this, we got this letter for her.”
John added: “This finally brings some closure to myself and my children.”
Recounting the assaults
Both Valarie and John grew up in Clarkston, a little town almost at the northernmost border of the state that at the time had a population of about 500 people.
John didn’t know it was happening at the time, but Valarie later told him the assaults started when she was 13 years old around 1968.
One day, according to the notice of claim from the family, Valarie was lured by three men into a barn by her house. One of the men was a neighbor. One was a family member. And the third was the UHP patrolman; he had previously been the marshal of Clarkston, too, and lived about two blocks away from Valarie.
They told her that her friend was in the barn, where there was a litter of kittens. When she got there, the UHP trooper and the family member raped Valarie at knifepoint while the neighbor watched, according to the legal notice provided to The Tribune.
They allegedly threatened her that they would kill her or her siblings if she told anyone.
Continuing for months and years after that, the trooper allegedly continued to contact Valarie through notes he’d leave for her. He’d instruct her to meet him in remote places where he would assault her. Often, he’d also beat her, her family alleged.
On one occasion, Valarie met the trooper at a remote cabin. According to the legal notice, when she got there, she found her family’s dog, Shadow, tied up outside. As she rushed toward the puppy, she would recall, the trooper dressed in full UHP uniform pulled out his revolver and shot it. He allegedly told Valarie he would do the same to her if she told anyone about what he was doing.
“He just terrorized her,” John said. “And it destroyed her.”
Sometimes Valarie’s brother would notice bruises on her, and she’d explain them away, John said. When her sister would see her leaving in the middle of the night, John added, Valarie would tell her she was just nervous and going to pet her horse. They’ve later talked about those signs with regret.
Sometime in 1972, according to what Valarie had said, she told the trooper she was pregnant. It was a lie, but she hoped it would lead him to stop assaulting her. After that, he left her a note to meet him by Newton Dam, a secluded spot south of the town, and she rode her horse there.
The trooper, according to the legal notice, beat Valarie and tried to drown her in the reservoir.
When talking to The Tribune, John read from a report from Valarie’s psychiatrist, which detailed her recounting of the experience. She told the doctor that after the trooper threw her in the water, she put her mouth barely above the surface and acted dead. He stayed for a while to watch her, apparently in the hopes that she wouldn’t get up. After he left, she pulled herself out of the water and rode back home.
The abuse stopped around that time, the family said, when the trooper was transferred to a different part of the state. Valarie had never reported the assaults, so the transfer was not related to any kind of discipline or response to her situation.
John said he and Valarie got to know each other better when they both attended Sky View High (the abuse was allegedly continuing at that point). He was a year older than her, and they started dating when he was a senior and she was a junior.
Valarie, John said, was a top student, a sprinter on the track team, a barrel racer in the rodeo, a student body officer and a beauty pageant queen, winning the coveted title of Cache Valley Dairy Princess. At the time, he saw her as accomplished. Later, she explained that she threw herself in those activities to distract herself from the assaults.
They both enrolled at Utah State University, where Valarie earned a degree in teaching. John later served a proselytizing mission in the early 1970s for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he came back, he said, he proposed to Valarie and they got married.
They had their first child, Anne, in 1977 and lived in nearby Hyrum. Three more kids followed, Ryan, Erin and Brooke.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when one of their daughters was in accident, that Valarie started experiencing daily panic attacks so severe that she was hospitalized; the presence of the officers in responding to her daughter, the family believes, triggered her.
Around 1985 — ten years after she and John married — she began seeing a therapist and opening up about the assaults. Slowly, she shared with John what had happened to her as a teen, he said.
The state’s so-called investigation in 1990
The family moved to Nebraska in 1986 for John’s job. And he found a psychiatrist there for Valarie to continue to see. She started recovering more details, more memories of the assaults.
With that, John said, came suicidal ideation, deep depression and self harm. And she was checked into a hospital for 12 months.
It was about four hours away from their home, so John would visit when he could. Sometimes, Valarie would stay the weekend with the family, and the kids would be in hysterics when she’d go to leave. “It was hard on everybody,” John said.
John remembers keeping an empty shoe box in the house. He’d visualize putting his anger in there. He’d open the lid every day, until it was worn and torn, and then put it back on the shelf.
“I had so much anger for the assailants,” he said. “I don’t even want to describe my thoughts.”
By May 1990, with the support of her therapist, John talked to Valarie about reporting what had happened to her. At that point, the statute of limitations for them to pursue possible criminal charges against the trooper had passed; that legal deadline was narrower at the time and John later helped push for legislation that extended the window in Utah. Now, there is no statute of limitations for rape victims.
Valarie agreed to talk to officers at the Utah Department of Public Safety, in the hopes that they would investigate, because they still had the power to take action in connection with the trooper’s job. The family had closely watched a case from 1987 where a different Utah Highway Patrol trooper, Ernest Wilcock, was accused of raping several women he’d pulled over in his squad car. He pleaded guilty to forcible sex abuse and served time in the Utah State Prison.
The Millers hoped that case had prompted policy changes in the department and the allegations from Valarie would be taken seriously.
Valarie and John spoke to the head of investigations of DPS, who John said pledged that he would thoroughly look into Valarie’s report. The investigator promised to do a polygraph test on the trooper, John recalled.
The Millers also mentioned their concerns that the trooper had a close relationship with Doug Bodrero, who was then the head of DPS. Bodrero and the trooper had worked together in Cache County, Bodrero in the sheriff’s office there and the trooper through UHP. Now, as commissioner, Bodrero had approved a promotion of the trooper to lieutenant. And DPS oversees UHP.
John and Valarie were hopeful until a few weeks later, when the investigator called. He said the trooper had denied the allegations and had also passed a polygraph test. He tried to push Valarie to do a polygraph, but her therapist said that wouldn’t be healthy for her, so she declined.
The investigator said he was closing the case.
The family didn’t know at the time, but the investigator also talked to the Millers’ attorney. The investigator suggested to the attorney that he’d talked to Valarie’s therapist and was told by him that she was mentally ill, using a pejorative term, and lying about the assaults. The attorney didn’t tell the family then, John said, to not worsen their hurt.
On July 9, 1990, the investigator closed the case with a letter to the trooper saying the accusations were “not sustained.”
At that point, several folks in Clarkston had heard about their allegations and many sided with the trooper, according to the family. He had moved back there, where he lived until his death, and also defended himself.
Valarie’s parents and siblings were living there, too; her dad, in his 90s, continues to live there, and her mom did until she died about a year ago. Some people in the community were cruel to them and accused them of lying, John said. And Valarie’s name, he said, “was dragged through the mud by these guys,” meaning the men she said assaulted her. She wouldn’t step foot near Cache County out of fear.
Valarie experienced such trauma from the investigation being closed that she decided to drop the case. But it continued to severely impair her, John said. Her MS eventually left her unable to walk; she’d occasionally still be able to ride horses, one of the few things that brought her joy, up until she died in 2017. But her last years were lived in pain, he said, and mental anguish.
The Millers didn’t know that the investigator, though, had lied to them in an attempt to cover up the allegations. John learned that in 2020, with his own private investigation.
The family’s renewed investigation
A few years after his mom died, Ryan had read a book about serial killers and rapists that prompted him to push further on what happened to Valarie. John agreed, wanting to “clear her name.”
The family members said they are fortunate to have had the resources to do so, acknowledging that not everyone is able to. Moving forward, they also intend to use those resources to help other victims, they said; they believe, in particular, that there are other victims of the trooper who allegedly assaulted Valarie.
They started by hiring Mike Anderson, who has worked with the FBI and now runs his own company, Veracity Polygraph and Investigations. They also got the help of powerhouse attorneys Richard Lambert, a former assistant to the U.S. attorney, and Paul Cassell, a University of Utah professor, former U.S. district court judge and respected victim advocate.
Anderson said he interviewed more than 100 people in the case, trying to get at the truth.
He talked to the investigator who had promised to look into Valarie’s case; the man, now retired, lives near St. George. Anderson said as the investigator answered his questions, his story started to change and there were holes in his account.
The biggest one, according to Anderson: The investigator admitted he never did a polygraph test of the trooper.
But Anderson said he repeated several times that he had talked to Valarie’s therapist and that he told him that Valarie was lying.
So Anderson reached out to that therapist next. The therapist, also retired, said he vividly remembered Valarie’s case and said no one from Utah law enforcement ever talked to him about it. And, he told Anderson, he believed everything Valarie had told him about the assaults.
“That was the pivotal point in the investigation,” Anderson said. “By then, I knew the old DPS guys were lying to me.”
Anderson uncovered that DPS didn’t have the equipment to do its own polygraph tests until 1994 — after Valarie had reported her concerns. Before that, the department contracted with a specialist to conduct those.
That specialist has since died, but Anderson said his widow saved all of his detailed logs of every test he’d ever administered, organized by year. Anderson looked at the log from 1990; the trooper was not named anywhere.
That’s when things took a stranger turn, Anderson explained. He went to talk to Bodrero, the former DPS commissioner who is also retired in St. George. He said Bodrero denied knowing who the trooper was, which he found odd, especially since they served together in Cache County.
Bodrero also denied knowing anything about the investigation into the trooper, even though he would have had to sign off on both opening a review and closing a review as head of the department.
Things weren’t matching up.
When Anderson got in contact next with the trooper before he died this year in August, the trooper confirmed he’d been friends with Bodrero. He even had a picture of a squad car still hanging in his office that he said Bodrero had gifted him, according to Anderson.
The trooper, though, diverged from the investigator and continued to maintain that he’d taken a polygraph test. He searched this his office, Anderson said, but wasn’t able to produce a copy of the results.
What he did find, though, was the letter concluding the faux investigation that said the allegations weren’t sustained. And he made a copy of it for Anderson.
At the bottom was something that Anderson found interesting. It noted who received copies of the findings. The first name listed: Commissioner Bodrero.
Notable, too, was that no copy was given to the colonel over the Utah Highway Patrol at the time, Anderson said. When he interviewed the colonel, the man told him that if he would have been aware of the allegations against the trooper, he would have put him on leave.
Anderson believes the investigator and commissioner specifically didn’t tell the UHP colonel so he couldn’t do that.
“But they knew [the trooper] posed a risk to the public,” Anderson said.
The trooper later was promoted to captain and also named a trooper of the year.
Bodrero is represented in connection with the family’s claim by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which approved the issuing of Anderson’s statement.
Anderson prepared the results of his investigation for the family, and also for the attorney general’s office and Utah Department of Public Safety.
“There was no substantive investigation done in 1990 of what happened to Valarie,” Anderson said. “Nothing was done. They never talked to Valarie. They never went to Clarkston. They didn’t talk to her therapist. They just let the trooper get away with this. We can show that.”
Hope, love and scars
DPS did its own investigation, which concluded shortly after the trooper had died; The Tribune is not naming the trooper, who was never charged in the case. The relative who had also allegedly assaulted Valarie has died, as well.
The neighbor who allegedly watched the assault is currently serving a prison sentence in Colorado for attempted sexual exploitation of a child via the internet. When that term concludes, he will be transferred to Utah.
The charges he pleaded guilty to here — aggravated sexual assault of a child — were based on allegations uncovered by Anderson during his investigation. A family member of the neighbor told him and later reported to police that he had assaulted her as a child. He’ll serve five years to life in Utah for that.
John said it was hard for him to have the trooper die before everything was concluded; it was never about punishing him, he said, but he wanted at least for the truth to be out there while the trooper was still alive.
But getting justice for the relative of the neighbor, the family said, has made the investigation well worth it. After the neighbor’s case went to trial, John said, he talked to the relative on the phone and they cried together about their experiences.
John hopes by sharing Valarie’s story other victims might feel empowered to come forward and report assault. He wants accountability, particularly with police, who he said are supposed to protect victims, not create victims.
Ryan added: “These things just get buried. You have to bring these things to light so you can break up these patterns. My mom was a beautiful person. But she was very wounded from what happened to her.”
He believes if the state had investigated in 1990 as it should have, his mom could have found some justice and some healing. “Her life could’ve been so different,” he said. “All of our lives could have been different.”
It was hard growing up and seeing his mom struggle with the trauma. He and siblings had a lot of sadness in their lives, and they continue to carry those emotions and scars, he said. He hopes, though, that the acknowledgement of the state’s failures will help him to not pass the pain on to his kids.
Commissioner Anderson wrote in his letter that there is no legal recourse he can take to “right the wrong” that was done to Valarie. But he said he expresses deep regret for how she was treated and hopes that the family will “find closure in our efforts to address your pain and frustrations.”
Ryan said as his mom was dying and he stood by her hospital bed, she kept repeating, “I love you, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry, and I love you.”
He said he’s sorry for what happened to her and sorry it took so long for the family to find the truth. They pushed for the state’s acknowledgement, he said, because they all loved her back.
https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/12/06/utah-apologizes-not/ Utah apologizes for not investigating woman’s 1990 report of rape by UHP trooper