Head of disbanded WVC narcotics unit’s demotion reversed

Posted at 7:23 PM, May 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-16 00:21:35-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - The man who once led West Valley City’s now disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit is celebrating a victory. John Coyle, who was demoted to a patrol officer, has been reinstated to the rank of lieutenant by West Valley City’s Civil Service Commission.

The review board determined that Lt. Coyle violated some of the police department’s policies, including failure to adequately document evidence being booked or use-of-force cases, plus inadequate supervision of the NNU. However, the board felt demotion was too severe of a punishment and inconsistent with the treatment of other officers for similar violations.

"I agree with the commission here. You have very technical violations that occurred and I think for most cities and agencies there's a principle of progressive discipline. You don't chop someone's head off because they committed a relatively minor infraction," said Erik Strindberg, Coyle’s lawyer.

The board also said there was no credible evidence Lt. Coyle’s actions were responsible for District Attorney Sim Gill dismissing more than 100 cases connected to the narcotics unit.

The three-panel board also stated that Coyle didn’t violate policies for taking cash and property from seized vehicles and the city simply didn’t present enough evidence to justify the demotion, so Coyle has been reinstated as lieutenant and he says he’s due roughly $20,000 in back pay.

"Certainly we're very frustrated and disappointed in that finding. I certainly believe that demotion in this matter was appropriate, justifiable, and warranted," said West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo.

Chief Russo says thecity attorney will review the findings and the plan is to appeal. For now, Lt. Coyle will have a desk job in the chief’s office until Russo can determine a permanent position.

Danielle Willard’s mother is also upset by the decision. Officers in the narcotics unit shot and killed Willard’s after an alleged drug buy in November 2012. District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting unjustified. He has yet to decide if he’ll file charges against the officers involved.

While Lt. Coyle didn’t pull the trigger and wasn’t involved in the incident, “he was in charge of the team,” said Willard’s mother Melissa Kennedy. “That whole team was disbanded because they were all doing something they weren't supposed to.”

After hearing that the review board felt Lt. Coyle’s violations were “technical in nature” Kennedy responded, saying, “pulling a gun and not reporting it to me is not a minor procedure. I’m upset, I’m really upset (by the decision),” she said.