Latino activists call for civil rights investigation of West Valley police

Accusations come as warrants in department's shooting death are unsealed

Published: Saturday, March 23 2013 11:19 a.m. MDT

Police removed three bullet fragments, a plastic bag containing "brown, tar-like substance," a wallet and purse and their contents, a cellphone, nearly $200 in cash and various drug paraphernalia from Willard's vehicle, the warrants state. Police tried to obtain information about texts or other phone calls from the cellphones, but at least some of those inquiries turned up nothing.

The search warrants indicate a story that is different from what Willard's mother and her attorney believe occurred that day. The attorney said the officers' explanation "has the earmarks of a police coverup."

Cowley and Salmon remain on paid administrative leave as investigations into the shooting continue. Cowley is also the focus of a separate investigation that involves the 19 cases that Gill dismissed. Cowley was the lead investigator in each of those cases and Gill said they were dropped because of credibility issues.

West Valley police maintain that its detectives "are conducting these cases based on the merits of the case, whether these crimes have been committed," West Valley Police Sgt. Jason Hauer said Thursday. He said there is no indication of Hispanic discrimination.

Gill said his review of the 19 cases also did not turn up any suspicions about race.

"We have wonderful men and women who do their job honorably and with great distinction as law enforcement officers and they do their job professionally," he said, adding that he couldn't speculate about what might still be discovered regarding the cases. "We should not be prematurely judging them."

Archie Archuletta, president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights advocacy organization, said Friday that Latinos have had a "good working relationship" with police forces across the valley and in the state, but rising amounts of violence between police officers and others is a growing concern.

"We've got to stop the gun craziness going on in our state," he said, adding that the attitude is "infectious and frightening," even for police "who have to confront the people who have no business having guns."

The mounting fear tactics, he said, border on anti-immigration practices.

Gill said the community would not tolerate such behavior "in law enforcement, in education or on any other level."

"Of course if that was in fact the case, it would be of great concern to everybody because it besmirches the integrity of the entire criminal justice system," he said. Gill said painting all police officers with the same brush would be unfair.

Yapias and Archuletta have contacted the U.S. Department of Justice for further review of the 19 West Valley police cases. A conciliation specialist with the regional office in Denver could neither confirm nor deny federal involvement on Friday.

The two activists also intend to involve the FBI's civil rights division in the discussion.

"Everybody wants to know what has happened here," Yapias said. He said federal agencies will provide another set of eyes on the matter to see if the trend continues beyond what surfaced in the dismissed cases.

"We're the eyes for the community," he said. "We have an obligation to make sure nobody's civil rights have been violated."

E-mail: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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