Feds drop 8 WVC PD drug cases as scandal grows

Posted at 9:32 PM, Apr 09, 2013

WEST VALLEY CITY — The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah confirmed Tuesday it has dismissed eight drug cases involving the West Valley City Police Department’s disbanded neighborhood narcotics unit, as the FBI begins a probe into the department.

In a statement to FOX 13 late Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it is still reviewing its cases involving the police department’s narcotics unit.

“As of today, we have filed motions dismissing eight cases. These motions, which have been granted by the court, were filed in the interests of justice,” the statement said. “Because there is are ongoing investigations related to these matters, we cannot comment beyond the information in this statement.”

The FBI has begun investigating the West Valley City Police Department particularly its neighborhood narcotics unit. Acting Police Chief Anita Schwemmer insisted to reporters on Tuesday it was she who requested the agency become involved.

Asked if she believed there were systemic and widespread problems with the department and the narcotics unit, she told FOX 13: “No, I don’t think so.”

“I think the FBI audit will bear that out,” Schwemmer said.

It came as lawyers for a police officer at the center of the growing scandal appeared before the West Valley City Council to ask the city to delay any action against him.

“The reason I am here is to encourage you to tell the police department to do the right thing,” said Lindsay Jarvis, the attorney for Detective Shaun Cowley.

Jarvis and an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, the officer’s union, asked the council to wait to take any action until after the FBI completed its investigation into the narcotics unit and the police department.

Cowley is at the center of the shooting of Danielle Willard during a drug bust last year and a series of dismissed cases involving allegations of questionable conduct. Jarvis told reporters outside the council meeting that her client is a “scapegoat.”

“What you’ll see, what will unravel in this FBI investigation is there’s issues associated with the custom and practices of this department and what they’ve allowed to happen and what they’ve trained these officers to do,” she said. “And now they’re pointing the finger at him for merely going forward with the advice of his supervisors.”

Asked about Jarvis’ claims, Schwemmer told reporters that narcotics unit detectives were “not rookie officers.”

Speaking to reporters, West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder said he believed the FBI investigation will provide recommendations for improvements and suggested “changes” when a new police chief is hired within the next four to six months.

“If there are areas where things are corrupt we want to fix that. It’s imperative as the elected officials of this city that we root out any corruption, that we fix any processes and we continue to give West Valley City Police Department the good reputation that frankly it deserves,” he told FOX 13.

Also on Tuesday, the West Valley City Council got a look at proposed changes to a civilian review board created to investigate complaints about police officers. The board has been criticized for a lack of transparency.

A proposal put forward by West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle would take oversight of the Professional Standards Review Board from the police department itself. The manager and city council would appoint members. Among the other recommended changes would require more public reporting of investigation outcomes — though the details of the investigations could be kept confidential, Pyle said.

Bret Rawson, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, urged the council to keep a police officer on the board to provide some input into an officer’s actions. Pyle said he believed that could remain in place.

The city council will consider the request in a couple of weeks.