69 more West Valley City police criminal cases tossed by DA
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office on Monday announced 69 additional West Valley City criminal cases it will not prosecute, while also revealing that the probe into mishandled cases had expanded to include all members of the city's now-defunct narcotics unit.
District Attorney Sim Gill said the dismissed cases involve all half-dozen or so officers of the narcotics unit, which was disbanded in December.
Among the cases are some involving violent and gang crimes in which Neighborhood Narcotics Unit officers were involved, Gill said.
Gill stressed, however, that the 3rd District Court cases will be dismissed solely because of the narcotics officers, and that the other units of the police department are not under scrutiny.
"This is an ongoing obligation that we have as the investigation and the probe continues," Gill said. "We are going to be sifting through those cases, and as we identify those compromised cases, we're going to dismiss them."
West Valley City police declined to comment about the new round of dismissals.
Last month, the DA's Office dismissed 19 other cases associated with one officer, whom Gill declined to name, but who has been identified by others as Detective Shaun Cowley. Federal prosecutors this month dismissed eight cases involving West Valley City officers.
Gill said he couldn't go into why the state cases Ânow totaling 88 have been targeted because of the ongoing investigation. But he said that they all involve "the conduct of these [the narcotics unit] officers."
On Friday, West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle announced that an internal audit of the police department's narcotics unit had unearthed a number of problems, including mishandling of evidence, booking evidence without proper documentation as well as the possibility of missing drugs and money.
Pyle said that seized items were improperly accounted for, such as loose change or a CD in a seized vehicle, and that officers kept "trophies" from drug busts for themselves and for use as training aids.
Deputy Chief Mike Powell said Monday that no officers have been disciplined or put on leave in connection with the audit because that investigation is ongoing. He said the results of the probe will be presented to the city's Professional Standards Review Board, which will review them and make a recommendation to acting Chief Anita Schwemmer.
The West Valley City police department also is currently under investigation by the FBI for several things: the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old alleged drug user Danielle Willard by Cowley and his colleague Kevin Salmon; allegations of criminal conduct by Cowley; and allegations of corruption within the narcotics squad. Cowley and Salmon are on paid leave in connection with the shooting.
Former West Valley Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen who retired in March for health problems has said he shut down the narcotics unit and ordered the audit in December after investigators found drug evidence dating back a year in the trunk of Cowley's police vehicle, not the evidence room. The drugs were discovered after detectives Cowley and Salmon shot and killed Willard during a Nov. 2 drug bust.