West Valley City narcotics officer’s hearing will be open, after all
Published: January 25, 2014 08:13PM
Updated: January 25, 2014 08:13PM
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Kim Raff | The Salt Lake Tribune Melissa Kennedy, mother of Danielle Willard, wipes away a tear as she talks about her daughter during a gathering outside the West Valley City Hall for Danielle Willard, who was shot by West Valley Police on Nov. 2 as she sat in her car unarmed, in West Valley City on December 16, 2012.

The civil service appeal hearing for former West Valley City police Lt. John Coyle — who headed the department’s discredited and now-defunct Neighborhood Narcotics Unit — will be open to the public after all.

West Valley City’s Civil Service Commission on Friday reopened the hearing, set to begin Monday, after Coyle withdrew his request to close the hearing.

Attorney Robert Mansfield, who represents Melissa Kennedy, the mother of a woman slain by members of the narcotics unit, said Coyle withdrew his request after Kennedy’s motion to keep the hearing open was filed Friday in 3rd District Court.

An emergency court hearing was set for Friday afternoon before Judge Keith Kelly. But the court hearing was canceled after attorneys on both sides stipulated that the civil service hearing would be open, according to a court clerk.

On Thursday, the three-member civil service commission had voted to close the hearing, despite objections from The Salt Lake Tribune, attorneys representing Kennedy and West Valley City itself.

The closure also prompted negative reactions from media attorneys, who questioned whether the closure was legal.

Kennedy, the mother of 21-year-old Danielle Willard, who was shot and killed in November 2012 during an alleged drug bust, claimed in the motion filed on her behalf that the commission’s closure of the hearing was “a plain violation of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.”

Kennedy’s motion — requesting a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order — stated that Coyle’s alleged misconduct is potentially part of “a much broader scheme of corruption involving the intentional violation of the constitutional rights of many individuals.”

“Holding secret hearings,” it continued, “contravenes the fundamental democratic tenet that only transparency can safeguard the integrity of government institutions.”

In addition to the death of Willard — an officer-involved shooting that was deemed unjustified by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill — a city-led probe unearthed a number of problems with the now-disbanded narcotics unit, including mishandling of evidence, booking evidence without proper documentation, as well as the possibility of missing drugs and money.

The probe also found that items, such as loose change or a CD in a seized vehicle, were improperly accounted for and that officers kept “trophies” from drug busts for themselves and for use as training aids. Coyle has been named as a defendant in at least one civil lawsuit alleging police misconduct. As a result of the probe, state and federal prosecutors have tossed more than 120 cases linked to the narcotics unit.

Police have never publicly said to what rank Coyle was demoted.

shunt@sltrib.com