Even after reading a scathing, accusation-filled report about his department, West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo said he stands by the decision to fire one of his detectives.
He said Friday — after he had time to review the appeal — he’s confident the West Valley City Civil Service Commission will agree that the city was justified in firing former police Detective Shaun Cowley.
He likened the appeal filed by attorney Lindsay Jarvis on behalf of Cowley to the Wizard of Oz. In the movie, the Wizard hides behind a curtain and uses special effects to distract spectators from that fact.
“They’re throwing all this other stuff up to make it seem like he wasn’t doing anything,” Russo said. “That wasn’t the case.”
He said Cowley was terminated for mishandling evidence and for unaccounted for money. He emphasized Cowley was fired for his own actions, not those of his supervisors or colleagues.
Thursday, Jarvis filed a 41-page appeal alleging the department violated her client’s rights, consistently employed unequal discipline across the department and used investigators that had blatant conflicts of interest against her client to investigate both the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit where Cowley served as a detective and the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard.
Cowley remained under investigation Friday for allegedly firing the fatal shot that killed Willard on Nov. 2, 2012 during an alleged drug bust. Cowley and Detective Kevin Salmon, who remains on paid leave in connection with the incident, said they were defending themselves as Willard tried to flee in her vehicle. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office disagreed, saying the men were unjustified in their use of force. Neither has been charged.
Russo said Cowley was not fired because of the Willard case. He said he stands by that investigation.
“I thought it was extremely thorough,” he said. “We handled it from a very professional level.”
Seven of the nine officers who worked with Cowley in the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit also have been disciplined for behavior ranging from taking property from suspects’ vehicles to illegally using GPS devices. Cowley is the only narcotics unit officer to be terminated. The narcotics unit’s Lt. John Coyle is appealing his disciplinary action. State and federal prosecutors dismissed more than 100 cases linked to undisclosed members of the unit.
Russo said the department will be studying Jarvis’ allegations to determine what is real and what is not and whether accountability has been established for the alleged actions.
He said some of the allegations Jarvis has leveled happened years ago. Others will be difficult to verify.
Jarvis claims she can back up all the allegations through police reports, recordings and testimony.