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During Thursday’s meeting, commissioners asked city representatives for a list of those expected to attend Coyle’s hearing, saying some people, including Coyle’s wife, might be allowed into the otherwise closed hearing.
Michael O’Brien, who serves as an attorney for The Salt Tribune, said it would be "odd" for the commission to allow Coyle’s wife to attend while prohibiting the public.
"Unless they are parties to the case, I think families are just members of the public like you and me," O’Brien said. "It seems very odd to close the hearing to some members of the public, but not others. Public bodies should not be allowed to pick and choose which members of the public get to attend a governmental hearing."
Attorneys with the Los Angeles firm Geragos & Geragos, who represent Willard’s family, argued in a written brief that to close the hearing would "extend the veil of secrecy that the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit operated under." They cited a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling indicating that an employee’s conduct is not protected by the right of confidentiality.
"The people of West Valley City deserve to have access to former Lt. Coyle’s hearing before you," attorney Mark Geragos wrote. "In light of the serious allegations surrounding his former unit, including the unjustified shooting of the unarmed Danielle Willard, closure of this hearing to the press and public would be contrary to the commission’s expressed goal of ensuring that West Valley City police officers ‘meet the high standards that are expected of them.’ "
"This community is depending on the commission not to drive into the shadows the conduct that has been alleged," Geragos wrote.
The Tribune, in a separate written motion, argued that the hearing should be public and that the commission’s own rules — which the city provided upon receipt of an open-records request — did not allow for a closure.
The Tribune argued it was in the public’s interest to keep such proceedings open, considering the seriousness of the allegations against the narcotics unit and since the integrity of the department was at stake.
The Tribune also noted that other Utah entities have made civil service hearings public — including the Utah Highway Patrol’s hearing involving former trooper Lisa Steed before a state commission; Salt Lake City police union leader Tom Gallegos’ hearing before Salt Lake City civil service commission; and Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Kent Morgan’s hearing before Salt Lake County’s Career Service Council.
In addition, the paper pointed out that, since November, West Valley City’s commission has held twounrelated appeals hearings that were public.
All previous commission proceedings involving Coyle have been public.
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