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Dismissed WVC drug cases could be refiled

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Posted at 8:34 PM, Apr 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-19 05:08:33-04

WEST VALLEY CITY -- Dozens of drug cases dismissed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney involving the police department's embattled narcotics unit could be refiled as misdemeanors, FOX 13 has learned.

West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle proposed creating a board to review the narcotics cases dismissed by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who has said there are significant problems with prosecuting them. The cases involve members of the West Valley City Police Department's now-defunct neighborhood narcotics unit. Gill has dismissed 88 cases and the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah has dropped eight.

Prosecutors have declined to say specifically why those cases have been dismissed, but Gill has previously said there were five cases that could involve criminal or other misconduct involving officers that called into question the others.

On Thursday, Pyle told FOX 13 he wanted to bring together a former district attorney, a retired judge, the city's own legal counsel and a representative from the police department to review the dismissed cases. They would look at whether city policies and procedures were followed -- but they could also determine if the dismissed cases should be refiled.

"If there's anything we can do to continue those cases on, we want to know what it is," he said.

Pyle said the cases may never be prosecuted as felonies by Gill's office, but city prosecutors could pursue them as misdemeanors.

"We're talking about crimes here," he told FOX 13. "We're talking about violations. We're talking about drug offenses and drug traffickers and of course we want to prosecute them if we can."

Late Wednesday, West Valley City announced it has put everyone who served on the disbanded neighborhood narcotics unit on administrative leave pending the outcome of a series of investigations.

"We are looking to make sure that there were no violations of the law, and if there were violations of the law, we've got not only our own eyes looking at that but obviously other entities including the DA and the FBI," Pyle said.

The officers join detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon, who have been on leave since the shooting death of Danielle Willard back in November. The shooting, and whether or not it is justified, remains under investigation by the DA.

On Friday, West Valley City leaders announced the results of an internal audit that included allegations of mishandling of evidence, misuse of a GPS, "souveneirs and trophies" taken from drug cases, items taken from seized vehicles and improper use of confidential drug informants.

Pyle told FOX 13 on Thursday there had also been one or two instances where "significant amounts" of drugs and money were reported missing from the narcotics unit. However, Pyle said no conclusions have been reached if the drugs and cash were stolen, missing or unaccounted for in an evidence room. Pyle insisted the issue was not widespread.

Cowley's lawyer said it was her hope an "external audit" by the FBI would ultimately clear him of wrongdoing.

"After 29 grueling days of solely placing blame on Detective Cowley, the West Valley City Police Department seems to be recognizing their internal problems are bigger than one officer," Lindsay Jarvis said. "The public needs to know, this is not, nor has it been, a Detective Shaun Cowley problem. This is a West Valley City Police Department Administration problem."

A lawyer representing one of the now-suspended narcotics unit detectives said he did not believe the district attorney should have dismissed so many cases. Greg Skordas said that based on the information he has been made privy to -- the narcotics unit officers did nothing criminally wrong.

"There was nothing that was done by these officers that would ever amount to a criminal violation," Skordas told FOX 13 on Thursday. "There was certainly some policy violations. They certainly didn't follow the rules within their own department and some of the rules just within their own unit. But none of this will ever amount to criminal violations."