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Attorneys prepare for fired Utah cop's hearing

Published February 13, 2014 1:22 pm

Court • Shaun Cowley, who was let go for alleged mishandling of evidence, claims police unit was corrupt.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City • The list of witnesses who will be called to testify before West Valley City civil service commissioners later this month in a former cop's attempt to get his job back will be finalized Tuesday.

But several of those witnesses, officers themselves, may invoke their Fifth Amendment right and stay silent to protect themselves from self-incrimination.

Shaun Cowley fired the shot that killed 21-year-old Danielle Willard in an alleged November 2012 drug bust. It was this incident that spurred an internal investigation during which Cowley allegedly made several statements detailing corruption in the now-defunct Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

The unit was disbanded and Cowley was fired from the department in September on allegations of mishandling evidence.

The probe also revealed issues including mishandling of evidence, booking evidence without proper documentation and the possibility of mishandling drugs and money. In some cases, seized items, such as loose change or a CD in a seized vehicle, were not properly accounted for. In others, officers kept "trophies" from drug busts for themselves and in use as training aids, the investigation revealed.

Cowley appeared before the panel of commissioners Thursday flanked by his attorneys.

In the audience sat several law enforcement officers, at least one of which came prepared with a letter invoking his Fifth Amendment rights in anticipation of being called to testify in Cowley's appeal.

Lindsay Jarvis, who is representing Cowley, said there were several things still to be finalized in preparation for his appeal hearing the week of Feb. 24.

"The city's been uncooperative, quite frankly," Jarvis said.

City attorneys pointed to last-minute motions and unresolved issues of discovery that have run up against filing deadlines. They asked commissioners to move the appeal date.

The commission refused.

Instead, the body voted to meet again Tuesday morning, at which point both sides will present prepared witness lists and argue any final motions.

Cowley's attorneys have long maintained that he was fired and used as a scapegoat by a department in which corruption ran deep.

Meanwhile, the three-member commission is still mulling whether to re-instate officer John Coyle to his former rank of lieutenant.

During a hearing last month, Coyle — who headed the discredited and now-defunct narcotics unit — claimed his discipline was overly harsh compared to other officers in the unit.

Coyle's demotion resulted in an annual pay cut of $20,000, said his attorney, Erik Strindberg, while people beneath Coyle were given "slaps on the wrist."

But during Coyle's two-day appeal hearing, city attorneys called him a poor leader, who knowingly let his unit run amok, failed to take responsibility for his actions and had a disregard for the law and police procedures.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae