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Hearing set for West Valley City cop who shot Danielle Willard

Published December 19, 2013 12:26 pm

Panel will decide if Cowley, who was fired, and a demoted officer should be reinstated.
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West Valley City • Civil service hearings for two West Valley City officers — one fired and one demoted — have been scheduled for early next year to determine whether they will be reinstated to their former posts.

The two officers, Detective Shaun Cowley and Lt. John Coyle, were members of the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

Cowley fired the fatal shot in the November 2012 alleged drug bust of 21-year-old Danielle Willard. He was fired from the department in September on allegations of mishandling evidence. Coyle was demoted after an internal probe of the narcotics unit.

The probe had unearthed a number of problems, including mishandling of evidence, booking evidence without proper documentation — as well as the possibility of missing drugs and money. The probe also found that seized 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.

As a result, state and federal prosecutors have tossed more than 120 cases linked to the unit.

Coyle will have a pretrial Jan. 16, with a trial Jan. 27-28 before the West Valley City Civil Service Commission; Cowley will have a Feb. 13 pretrial with a hearing the week of Feb. 24.

Lindsay Jarvis, who is representing Cowley, argued Thursday morning in front of the commission that the city should go first in presenting its case against Cowley, which reverses current procedure.

She argued that the allegations against Cowley are complicated and to adequately defend him, the city needs to lay out its case first.

"The facts are so plentiful in this case, it's important they be laid out correctly," she said, as Cowley looked on during a rare public appearance since Willard's death.

Commissioners agreed with Jarvis, saying they would like the "city to lay out its case step by step," but also warned both sides to stick the facts and eliminate any "fluff" when they face off in February.

City attorneys argued that the city doesn't need to model itself after other jurisdictions and that current procedure has been more than adequate in other cases. Commissioners also told city officials to make sure Jarvis has all the discovery information she's requesting to defend Cowley by early January.

After the hearing, Jarvis said the appeal would allow her client to tell his side of the story for the first time. She argues he has been "a scapegoat" for numerous problems plaguing the department.

In addition to the narcotics unit issues and the ongoing fallout from the Willard shooting, the city also recently conducted an audit of its sex/domestic violence crimes unit in which it found issues with 15 cases, including 10 that were represented by a detective to have been presented to prosecutors, but never were.

jstecklein@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribjanelle