Disciplinary records say West Valley City officers took loose change
By Jessica MIller
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Sep 14 2013 01:01AM
For several members of the West Valley City Neighborhood Narcotics Unit — disbanded in December because evidence was being mishandled — their offenses came down to mere loose change.
According to disciplinary records for six of the nine members of the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, several of their misdeeds were related to a practice of taking spare change out of cars seized by police and nearing auction, and collecting it in a jar to buy water and soft drinks.
Disciplinary letters — addressed to Sgt. Michael Johnson and Detectives Ricardo Franco, Chris Smith, Barbara Lund, Sean McCarthy and Rafael Frausto — were released by West Valley City police late Thursday in response to an open-records request by The Salt Lake Tribune.
The six officers were among nine placed on leave in April amid allegations of corruption, mishandling evidence and systemic cover-ups.
Two detectives, Kevin Salmon and Shaun Cowley, are still being investigated for their involvement in the fatal shooting of Danielle Willard, which the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office has ruled unjustified. Cowley was fired Thursday, while Salmon remains on paid administrative leave. The remaining officers have been reinstated to full duty.
According to the disciplinary letters, many of the detectives thought they were not breaking policy by collecting loose change.
"In your pre-disciplinary hearing, you stated your understanding that the property in the vehicles belonged to the city," Deputy Chief Larry Marx wrote to McCarthy and Frausto. "And it was a discretionary matter for handling the property."
The disciplinary action taken against McCarthy and Frausto was minor: a letter of counsel. Smith and Lund were also given letters of counsel. None of the four was suspended. According to the disciplinary records, Smith allowed other detectives to take sealed evidence from the narcotics unit office to evidence for booking, which violated policy that requires any transfer between officers to be documented.
Lund is accused of collecting change in the jar, but it was also alleged that she took a video from one of the cars headed for auction and kept it for "personal use," according to the disciplinary letter.
"I was impressed that you regretted your participation in the above described conduct while you were assigned to the NNU, and your belief that you have learned from this experience," Marx wrote in the disciplinary letter, adding that Lund had participated in the questionable conduct at the direction of her supervisor.
Franco was suspended without pay for 40 hours because he failed to book evidence "properly and in a timely manner." It was also alleged in the disciplinary review that he used a GPS tracker on suspected drug traffickers’ vehicles without obtaining a court order, which he admitted in his pre-disciplinary hearing to doing once before he was trained on the matter.
Johnson was suspended without pay for 80 hours for failing to provide proper supervision. Marx wrote in his disciplinary letter that Johnson also collected change out of vehicles, and he was aware that detectives were using GPS tracking devices in violation of court rulings.
Disciplinary letters were not released Thursday for Lt. John Coyle — who is appealing his disciplinary action — along with Cowley and Salmon. Cowley’s attorney said Thursday that he plans to fight the termination. Salmon is now the only member of the narcotics unit still on paid administrative leave.
Frausto, Lund, McCarthy and Smith were reinstated to their positions last month, while Coyle, Johnson and Franco were reinstated Thursday.
Former West Valley City Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen said the narcotics unit was disbanded, and he ordered an internal audit in December after investigators found drug case evidence in Cowley’s trunk. The drugs were discovered after the two detectives fatally shot Willard during a Nov. 2 drug bust.