Salt Lake County DA to review dismissed drug cases
Salt Lake County's district attorney said he would consider reviewing some of the more than 100 dismissed cases linked to West Valley City's disbanded drug squad once city leaders submit letters supporting the work of some of the officers involved in those cases.
District Attorney Sim Gill said one of the main reasons his office dismissed the cases linked to the West Valley City Neighborhood Narcotics Unit early on was because the city's prosecutors office would not provide letters of clearance which disclose any possible credibility issues of an officer for any of the unit's nine officers.
However, after the city reinstated four of those officers last week, Gill said he'd review some of those cases again if the city were to provide those letters as the cases were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled.
"Theoretically, we can go back and file on some of those cases, but that will be a narrow analysis, on a case-by-case, officer-by-officer basis," Gill said. "We will always go back and do our due diligence as our legal and factual [information] changes. Our [dismissed] cases were tied to requesting letters of clearance that we did not have about specific officers. Our cases were dismissed with certain officers in mind, not the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit as a whole."
West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle would not identify the four officers who were cleared, saying it would make it obvious which of the other five remained under investigation, but sources identified the four cleared officers as detectives Rafael Frausto, Barbara Lund, Sean McCarthy and Chris Smith.
As of Tuesday, no letters had been submitted for those four officers.
Eric Bunderson, West Valley City attorney, said his staff is in the process of finishing up the letters and plans to give them to the Salt Lake County district attorney's office within the week.
"We were conducting a thorough investigation into all of the allegations and did not feel comfortable issuing letters of clearance until that investigation was done," Bunderson said.
Pyle said last week the four made some "bad decisions," but nothing was discovered of a criminal nature.
He said Monday the city fully supports the four reinstated officers.
"If we thought there were lingering issues," he added, "we wouldn't be issuing the letters."
District attorney offices request letters of clearance about specific officers in cases where there are questions about conduct that might legally be required to disclosed to defense counsel under the U.S. Supreme Court's Brady-Giglio rulings, which require the defense to be informed about any issues involving an officer's credibility.
"At the time, we asked for letters of clearance, we didn't get any," Gill said. "[Not providing a letter causes] a red flag that goes up."
Gill said his staff was "very careful" not to dismiss every case linked to the unit, only those linked to officers who might be tied to Brady-Giglio issues. Gill hasn't identified those specific officers.
"We did not dismiss cases carte blanche," he said.
He said when his office requested letters of clearance, his staff received corroborating, factual information from West Valley City that helped narrow the cases that should be dismissed. Gill said he couldn't legally discuss what that information was and specific officers to which it pertained, but based on that documentation and the lack of letters of clearance, he said that led to the cases being dismissed.
Gill cautioned that just because West Valley City submits the letters, it doesn't take away or absolve the underlying factors that led to some of the dismissals in the first place, and his office might still be obligated to turn over evidence in the matter to defense counsel because of Brady-Giglio.
Twitter @sltribjanelle WVC drug cops: Four of nine are reinstated
Neighborhood Narcotics Unit officers Lt. John Coyle and Sgt. Michael Johnson, and Detectives Ricardo Franco, Rafael Frausto, Barbara Lund, Sean McCarthy and Chris Smith, were placed on paid leave in April amid allegations of corruption, mishandling evidence and systemic cover-ups.
Detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon were already on leave and will remain so for the fatal, unjustified shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard during a November drug investigation.
Sources have identified Frausto, Lund, McCarthy and Smith as having been reinstated last week.
Coyle, Johnson and Franco remained on paid administrative leave Tuesday. West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle said the investigation into the final three officers, whom he didn't identify, isn't yet complete, but will be finished "as quick as we can get them done."