WVCPD responds to new corruption allegations

Posted at 10:45 PM, Jul 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-09 00:45:05-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Prosecutors say Shaun Cowley fired the shot that killed Danielle Willard during a drug bust in West Valley City a year and a half ago.

On Tuesday, he made his initial appearance in court on a manslaughter charge. Cowley is also a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit connected to the Willard shooting.

A federal judge ruled both cases will move forward simultaneously, but Cowley won't have to provide evidence or make statements in the civil case so he doesn't incriminate himself in the criminal matter.

Meanwhile, as a result of the civil case, serious allegations came to light against West Valley City.
The Willard family's lawyer claims the city paid an officer to stay quiet after he resigned for allegedly having sex with drug suspects.

"Frankly I'm offended by it (the hush money allegation)," said West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo.

Los Angeles lawyer Mark Geragos, who represents the Willards, questioned West Valley city manager Wayne Pyle just a week ago during a deposition:

Mr. Geragos: Did you know about the accusations of (Officer Coombs`) sexual liaisons with potential suspects while on his shift at the time that the $10,000 was authorized?

Wayne Pyle: Yes.

Mr. Geragos: And you knew that he was calling that hush money so he wouldn't talk?

Pyle: I was aware of that after as Mr. Isaac (assistant city manager) made it known to me, yes.

West Jordan Police and the Utah Attorney General’s Office investigated the officer and declined to file charges. Chief Russo said the allegations were unfounded so the officer was not criminally charged but he resigned.

"Was there a severance agreement? Absolutely there was. Was there a non-disclosure? Yes. But was this presented or couched as "hush money" to cover something up, absolutely not and to characterize it as that I feel is irresponsible," Chief Russo said.

Shaun Cowley is not the officer involved in that incident. His lawyer Lindsay Jarvis said in a statement:

“the hush money allegations ... are just the tip of the iceberg in the house of cards West Valley City has created ... Shockingly, we have also learned of the city's ongoing attempts to ‘cover up’ these indiscretions in fear of civil liability."

A year ago, West Valley, its former police chief Buzz Neilson and supervisor John Coyle were all named as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit over the loss of Danielle Willard.

The family's lawyer says West Valley allowed a corrupt culture.

Tuesday, a federal judge decided the civil suit moves forward and a jury may have to decide if officers and the city should pay damages.

"From my perspective I'm glad it's moving forward. I certainly and the department certainly wants to see this resolved," Chief Russo said.

Danielle Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy said over the phone she's grateful the wrongful death suit will not be put on hold during Shaun Cowley's criminal case.

Kennedy added that she does not want to settle with the city. She believes the case warrant a trial so that the entire truth is exposed.