Is embattled West Valley police detective being fired?

100 of department's drug cases could now be dismissed, D.A. says

Published: Friday, April 5 2013 1:00 p.m. MDT

West Valley police detective Shaun Cowley is taken to an ambulance by paramedics after he and another detective shot and killed Danielle Willard, 21, during an undercover drug operation, Nov. 2, 2012. Cowley is the focus of several ongoing police investigations.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — A West Valley police detective under investigation by several agencies for alleged corruption is being fired, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police announced Friday.

But a spokesman for West Valley City denied that any final decision about detective Shaun Cowley's employment has been made.

Brett Rawson, an attorney for the police union, said Cowley was told on Thursday that the West Valley Police Department intends to fire him within the next seven to 10 days based on issues of "mishandling evidence, insubordination, and dereliction of duty."

He called the timing of the decision "extremely suspect" since the FBI was just asked one day earlier to investigate Cowley and the department's narcotics unit, which was disbanded in December.

"The most ironic part of the West Valley City Police Department's intention to terminate is that its decision is based primarily on an internal audit of the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which was conducted by two members of the department who may be culpable themselves for failing to train and supervise the detectives in the unit," he said.

He called it a "sad day" for the department, saying it is more interested in "hanging a single officer out to dry rather than holding their supervisors and administrators accountable for what appears to be a pervasive and systematic failure to train and supervise their narcotics officers."

But city spokesman Aaron Crim said the police department has only asked Cowley to respond to a "process to evaluate the concerns and allegations that have come up" against him.

"There's been no use of the word 'fire' or 'terminate' or anything like it," he said. "He still has an opportunity to respond to any concerns that are coming up. ... At this point, nothing's been decided."

News of the potential firing came as the Salt Lake County district attorney said more than 100 drug-related cases from the West Valley City Police Department could now be dismissed as prosecutors continue to investigate allegations of corruption.

District Attorney Sim Gill has already dismissed 19 drug-related cases in which Cowley was the lead investigator. Both Cowley and detective Kevin Salmon are also being investigated in the fatal officer-involved shooting of Danielle Willard, 21, in November.

The embattled West Valley Police Department has been fighting to restore its public image since breaking its silence about the Willard shooting on March 21, about 4 ½ months after it occurred. Since then, the department has been faced with a flow of corruption allegations by the attorney for Melissa Kennedy, Willard's mother, as well as outside investigations by the FBI, Salt Lake police and the district attorney's office into the Willard shooting, the department's former drug unit and Cowley himself.

Now, Gill says he has been forced to expand his investigation from looking at just one officer to an internal audit of all cases filed by the West Valley police drug unit, which was disbanded in December. That means more than 100 cases are at risk of being dismissed because of credibility issues, Gill said.

"I've got some people saying, 'Well, he shouldn't be dismissing those cases.' First of all, they don't know what my obligations are," Gill said. "Sometimes we have to make sacrifices we may not want to. But the objective is not the pain it causes right now, but the objective is to retain integrity in the criminal justice system."

To protect the justice system, sometimes sacrifices are made, he said. But he noted that it isn't an easy process.

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