Lawyers: West Valley City followed the law releasing cop records
Despite allegations to the contrary, West Valley City did not violate officers' rights in releasing internal affairs statements linked to the investigation into its beleaguered Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, one law professor says.
In fact, by doing so, the city likely fulfilled its obligation under the law rather than violating the Garrity v. New Jersey ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, said R. Michael Cassidy, a professor of law at Boston College.
"The city did what it had to do," he said. "And they were right to turn it over to prosecutors. As a government lawyer, you can't withhold exculpatory information."
Because prosecutors can't withhold information that could possibly exonerate another person, Cassidy said the city was obligated to turn those reports over so that prosecutors could review them for Brady-Giglio issues or issues that could impact an officer's credibility.
Lindsay Jarvis, who is representing former West Valley City Detective Shaun Cowley in his termination appeal, has alleged that the city exhibited a "failure to understand Garrity, issues related to conflict and the dissemination of privileged information."
Jarvis declined to comment when reached by The Tribune.
Cowley, a former West Valley City Neighborhood Narcotics Unit detective, is appealing his September termination from the department on allegations of mishandling evidence and misappropriation of money. In an unrelated matter, he's also alleged to have fired the fatal shot that killed 21-year-old Danielle Willard during a drug investigation more than a year ago in what Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determined was an "unjustified" shooting.
The Garrity ruling simply means that statements made by officers under Garrity protection can't be used against them in criminal cases, Cassidy said.
"It's not a prohibition of sharing. It's a prohibition of charging," he said. "They can't be used against you in any criminal prosecution that comes against you."
Garrity statements can be turned over to law enforcement personnel and district attorneys when necessary as long as they're not used in a criminal case, he said.
Jarvis alleges in her appeal that within days of receiving those statements, Gill's office contacted the Salt Lake City Police Department to ask for an independent investigation.
Gill denies that allegation pointing out that West Valley City leaders have said that they initially called for the probe by Salt Lake City.
"We became aware of potential criminal issues," Gill said. "It was obvious they couldn't investigate them, so we started to work with the Salt Lake City Police Department."
But if one officer made incriminating statements against another, those statements could be used if prosecutors were able to get the second officer to testify against the first, Cassidy said.
The FBI has not confirmed it is investigating the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which has battled allegations of corruption and mishandling evidence.
But West Valley City confirmed it did release the Garrity statements, and Gill confirmed his office received them.
West Valley City Attorney Eric Bunderson said the release of such records is routine in cases "where you have big issues, systemic allegations."
"We certainly would acknowledge we released those," Bunderson said. "[Gill] requested them so he could evaluate the Brady-Giglio material."
He would not comment on whether the city potentially violated officers' rights in the release of the records because of the litigation pending filed regarding Cowley's termination.
"We have fulfilled our obligation under Brady and Giglio to [provide] potential impeachment material," he said.
And while Gill confirmed his office reviewed the statements, he said the Garrity statements obviously will not be used in any criminal cases that could potentially be filed.
"When and if we file those charges, we will make very sure those are independently supported allegations," Gill said. "[Any criminal charges] will stand on their own. They have to."