Special panel to review W. Valley drug cases

Apr 18 2013 - 5:14pm

WEST VALLEY CITY -- The West Valley City manager plans to create a special panel to review nearly 100 cases from the city's police drug unit that have been dismissed by prosecutors.

City manager Wayne Pyle said Thursday that the review is meant to help the city learn from its mistakes and prevent them from happening again. The special review panel will include a retired judge, a former district attorney, a member of the city's legal team and somebody from the police department. The members have not yet been selected.

To date, federal and local prosecutors have dropped 96 cases from the suburban department's drug unit due to a lack of credible evidence. The FBI is also investigating allegations of corruption within the unit.

Pyle said the review is not meant to one-up the ongoing review with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, but rather help the city better understand why he chose the cases for dismissal.

"There are lessons we can still learn by looking at them," Pyle said. "We're trying to move forward and figure out how to help our own situation."

The creation of the panel is the latest development in a widening probe into allegations of corruption in the department's drug unit.

On Wednesday, West Valley City Police Department announced it had put another seven more officers on paid administrative leave from the disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. The new batch of officers taken off patrol includes a lieutenant, a sergeant and five detectives. Two others had been sidelined earlier, meaning the entire unit is now off patrol.

The police and city officials of the Salt Lake City suburb disclosed last week that an internal review found that officers had mishandled evidence, kept souvenirs from drug busts and possibly lost drugs and money.

The review began 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.

The two detectives from the unit involved in that shooting, Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon, have been on leave since then, following standard procedure for officer-involved shootings.

The new officers placed on leave are: Lt. John Coyle; Sgt. Michael Johnson; and detectives Ricardo Franco, Sean McCarthy, Rafael Frausto, Chris Smith and Barbara Lund.

Even without the narcotics team, West Valley City police department continues to arrest drug dealers and users, Pyle assures. He said the city plans to recreate the disbanded unit in the future.

When that happens, they'll make sure the controls and procedures are in place to avoid the problems that doomed the now defunct unit, Pyle said.


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