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Officers in West Valley City shooting have disciplinary history
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Off-duty West Valley City police officer Shaun Cowley was taking a drive with his family in his patrol vehicle in May 2011 when he noticed an aggressive driver in the Sandy area.

Cowley — who is currently being investigated for a fatal shooting and alleged evidence mishandling — decided to pull him over.

As Cowley's wife and children waited, Cowley approached the driver, whose name was redacted from a discipline letter obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune and asked him, "Why in the hell he was driving recklessly," according to the documents.

Cowley then told the man to "pull his head out of his ass and drive correctly."

The driver filed a complaint, and the encounter ended up in Cowley's discipline file, which was provided by West Valley City in response to an open records request. The files show that Cowley and his colleague, Kevin Salmon, both had two written warnings in their files in the years leading up to the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard during a November drug investigation.

Willard's parents, Melissa Kennedy and Frederick Willard Jr., have both filed a notice of claim — the first step in possibly filing a lawsuit — with the city, according to other records released by the city.

While Cowley's reprimands involved interactions with people, Salmon's were mostly procedural violations for failing to get his oil changed and not wearing a seat belt, the records show.

The two detectives are on leave along with seven of their colleagues who were members of the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. The unit is currently the subject of federal, state and internal probes investigating allegations of corruption, criminal activity and mishandling of evidence. The narcotics unit was shut down in December and an internal audit begun after drug evidence dating back a year was found in Cowley's trunk following Willard's death.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has since dismissed 88 cases filed in connection with the unit, and the U.S. Attorney's Office has dismissed another eight.

Cowley and Salmon could not be reached for comment. Lindsay Jarvis, Cowley's attorney, said that two entries in 10 years should "speak for itself" as not very many.

During the May 2011 stop on Interstate 15, Cowley used "vulgar language," according to a letter about the incident from Cowley's personnel file. The letter was written to Cowley by West Valley Police Sgt. M.T. Johnson, who claimed Cowley's stop for a minor traffic violation had potentially jeopardized "a large investigation," the details of which are redacted from letter.

In addition, Johnson found Cowley violated department policy for driving the police vehicle outside city limits for personal reasons, and had endangered his own life by failing to tell radio dispatch of his location.

"While I agree that [name omitted] may have been driving aggressively that is no excuse to use foul or abusive language and the stop should have been handled with a citation or a stern but professional warning," Johnson wrote. "... Any further occurrences of this type will result in disciplinary action."

But that wasn't Cowley's first write up.

In June 2008, he was reprimanded for leaving the victim of an auto theft/vehicular assault that occurred on 1700 West in West Valley City to "get involved with a vehicle pursuit," according to a reprimand letter written by Sgt. John Pearce.

After Cowley left the scene, police were unable to locate the victim for nearly an hour and were unable to confirm vital contact information needed for the pursuing officers, Pearce wrote.

"The victim later recanted the fact that his vehicle was stolen or the fact that his vehicle had been rammed by the suspect," the letter reads. "It was also learned that a majority of the incident had taken place in South Salt Lake. This lack of information put the city in a position of potential liability with the result of a high risk stop.

"It is critical that we take on all assignments with professionalism and thoroughness," the letter continues. "It appears that you abandoned your assignment to go with the more exciting pursuit that was beginning. Although you indicated that the pursuing officer may have been in immediate peril, there was no evidence of such."

Salmon was first disciplined as a trainee when he was the passenger in a patrol vehicle that was involved in a serious traffic accident. Police determined Salmon wasn't wearing a seat belt, a violation of department policy.

Salmon's most recent reprimand came in November 2011, after he repeatedly failed to take his K-9 patrol vehicle in for service in a timely manner.

"It was discovered that there wasn't enough oil left to register on the dip stick and that the mileage was over the recommended 3,000 miles," Sgt. Shane Matheson wrote in the reprimand.

Matheson goes on to cite three different dates where Salmon failed to promptly change his oil.

"Remember, your assigned vehicle is a privilege not a benefit or an employee right," Matheson wrote.

jstecklein@sltrib.comTwitter @sltribjanelle

West Valley City • Cowley berated aggressive driver; Salmon violated procedures.
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