West Valley City police officer appeals firing

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 2:12 PM

Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

WEST VALLEY CITY -- An officer who was part of a West Valley City police unit accused of misconduct is fighting his dismissal, alleging the department failed to provide needed training, supervision and uniform discipline of officers.

Lindsay Jarvis, an attorney for former Detective Shaun Cowley, lays out the allegations in a 41-page letter filed Thursday with the city’s Civil Service Commission, which oversees police discipline.

Cowley was a member of the Police Department’s now-disbanded drug squad, which was linked to more than 100 cases prosecutors dismissed this year, citing a lack of credible evidence.

West Valley City police said an internal review found officers in the unit had mishandled evidence, lost drugs and money, and collected souvenirs from drug busts, among other misconduct.

Eight other officers from the unit have been placed on leave or disciplined, but Cowley is the only officer who was fired.

Police Chief Lee Russo said at the time of Cowley’s dismissal in September that Cowley’s offenses were much more “significant and persistent than the other officers’.” Russo said he couldn’t discuss specific allegations because it was an ongoing personnel matter.

In the letter released Thursday, Jarvis disputes the chief’s reasoning and accuses the department of conducting a flawed investigation into Cowley’s actions and failing to punish other wrongdoing.

Russo said Friday that he’s reviewing the letter but still thinks Cowley’s firing was justified.

The inquiry into Cowley and the drug unit began last November after police fatally shot an unarmed 21-year-old woman during a drug investigation.

Cowley was one of two officers involved in the shooting of Danielle Willard, which a county prosecutor has ruled was unjustified.

West Valley City has said Cowley’s dismissal was unrelated to the shooting. The other officer, Detective Kevin Salmon, is still on administrative leave as prosecutors decide whether to file criminal charges.

Jarvis and Salmon’s attorney, Brett Rawson, say the shooting was justified.

When investigators began reviewing Willard’s death, they found unrelated evidence in the trunk of Cowley’s car, which sparked the internal review.

In the appeal letter, Jarvis wrote that Cowley’s actions did not necessitate firing.

She also accused the department of making Cowley a scapegoat for broader failures, such as a lack of training and accountability.

Supervisors looked the other way when allegations arose of other officer misconduct, Jarvis said, including allegations of burglary and a falsified search warrant.

At one point, Cowley was threatened when he requested to be transferred out of the unit because he was “burnt out,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis also wrote that, later on, investigators looking into Cowley’s actions were themselves accused of mishandling some of the same evidence in certain cases.

“Each of these investigations, directed at promoting detective Cowley as the scapegoat, violated detective Cowley’s due process rights,” the letter states.

Russo said that a number of the allegations in the letter have been addressed in the internal review.

“This is not representative of the entire department,” said Russo, who took the helm in August. “There have been some problems. We have brought accountability to those individuals. If there’s anything new, we’ll look at that and affix accountability if necessary.”

An official appeal hearing before the city’s Civil Service Commission has not been scheduled.

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