WVC Police Dept. investigation finds issues within narcotics unit

Posted at 5:34 PM, Apr 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-13 00:35:28-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - The West Valley City Police Dept. has completed its internal investigation into the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

In a press conference on Friday, West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle said that an internal investigation found major issues within the unit.

"Our processes are what discovered the issue in the first place. When we discover problems, we take care of those problems. It's happened in the past and unfortunately it will happen again, humans being humans, but we are confident we have a great police department," Pyle said.

Pyle said there was mishandling of evidence, drugs and money missing from evidence in some cases, GPS trackers used without proper warrants, improper use of confidential informants and some officers may have collected "souvenirs or trophies," like necklaces or candles from certain cases.

But the conclusion of their investigation is only leading to more problems for Salt Lake County District Attorney, Sim Gill.

"Each one of these issues, individually, is troubling. Taken together and collectively, I think they're devastating to our criminal justice system," said Gill.

Initially, he had dismissed 19 cases connected to the unit, but believes hundreds more could be lost now.

"Every case that I have to dismiss, that I shouldn't have had to dismiss, is one too many cases," said Gill. "But I will gladly dismiss 10, 20, 50, 100 more, if we don't have the evidence."

Without revealing his own findings, Gill said the discoveries made during West Valley City's internal audit can easily compromise the stacks of active cases tied to the unit.

"Any one of these allegations violates the principles of fair and just process by any standard of our citizens and criminal justice system, any one of them. Combine them together, I think they paint a devastating commentary at a problem that I think any citizen, law trained or otherwise, would say, 'This is not what my expectation of good government is,'" said Gill.

The investigation into the unit began after the Nov. 2 shooting death of Danielle Willard, who was killed by two WVC detectives during a drug bust. The two officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation continues.

One of those officers, Det. Shaun Cowley, is under investigation after 19 of his drug cases were dropped by Gill. That investigation spread to the entirety of the narcotics unit and more cases have since been dropped.

The Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, consisting of six officers and two supervisors, was disbanded in December, and all members are now under investigation. Pyle said some could be exonerated and others could be removed. As of yet, none have been disciplined.