West Valley says drug unit lost evidence

Friday , April 12, 2013 - 7:42 PM

Annie Knox

WEST VALLEY CITY -- West Valley City says an internal investigation of the police department's disbanded drug unit found officers mishandled evidence, kept souvenirs from drug busts and possibly lost drugs and money, among other issues.

City officials held a news conference Friday afternoon to announce the results of an internal investigation.

West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle and Acting Police Chief Anita Schwemmer said the problems go back at least two years. They would not name the officers involved.

The audit began last November.

Since March, state and federal prosecutors have dismissed 27 drug cases that came out of West Valley City drug squad. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill is still reviewing hundreds of cases and said he expects more to be dismissed.

The police department's internal review found instances where police improperly handled evidence and money and drugs in police custody were missing, but Pyle and Schwemmer declined to detail the amounts.

At least two officers in the unit incorrectly logged evidence or did not document them at all, Pyle said.

Officers also collected "trophies" from drug cases, such as small items associated with drug trafficking culture like necklaces and candles, Schwemmer said.

The review also found that officers improperly used confidential informants and some of them may have been in the country illegally, Pyle said. The officers also failed to properly keep records of interviews with those informants, and improperly used GPS devices on cars during investigations without first getting warrants.

The audit was started in November after the police-shooting death of an unarmed woman, Danielle Misha Willard, 21. During a review of the shooting, investigators found "unrelated issues and concerns" that triggered a separate investigation, Deputy Chief Mike Powell said Friday evening.

Powell did not elaborate on the issues but said they led to a full audit of the narcotics unit.

Two officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave pending the separate investigation of Willard's death, Powell said.

No officers are on leave related to the problems revealed in the drug unit audit, but the department is looking at "all possible options for disciplinary action," Powell said.

The FBI is also investigating allegations surrounding the department's drug unit and Willard's death.

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Associated Press Writer Michelle L. Price in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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