West Valley police stole money, 'trophies,' maybe drugs, audit finds

Published: Friday, April 12 2013 4:25 p.m. MDT

Results of an internal audit released Friday showed that narcotics officers from the West Valley Police Department stole money and other items from vehicles they seized and may have taken drugs and money confiscated during arrests. Shaun Cowley, at left, is one of two detectives in the drug unit on administrative leave.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Narcotics officers from the West Valley Police Department stole money and other items from vehicles they seized and may have taken drugs and money confiscated during arrests, an internal audit found.

"We may have missing drugs and money that are associated with this investigation," West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle said Friday.

The announcement of six "areas of potential problems" came as the embattled police department has faced criticism for several weeks over corruption allegations — particularly within the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which was disbanded in December.

The findings are from the department's internal audit and will now be shared with the FBI and Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office to be used as part of their respective investigations. 

Pyle would not provide the names of officers who may be connected to the problems or amounts of drugs or money that may be missing, citing the ongoing investigations. He was also not specific about the frequency of the violations.

Six officers and two supervisors worked in the drug unit, according to acting Police Chief Anita Schwemmer. Only two of them are on administrative leave — detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon, who were involved in the fatal shooting of Danielle Willard on Nov. 2, 2012, during an undercover drug operation.

"It was mostly one or two officers that had the issues," Schwemmer said.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said even one of these issues would be cause for alarm, and as the count adds up, they are "immensely troubling collectively." 

The internal investigation began shortly after that shooting when investigators discovered evidence from an unrelated case in the trunk of Cowley's police car, Schwemmer said, adding that the subsequent violations that were discovered "aren't directly related to the Willard investigation."

Pyle said the six areas of concern discovered from the internal audit include:

• Improper evidence handling, including broken chains of custody, improper logging of evidence and transporting evidence contrary to procedure. Pyle called such procedural infractions "common" within the unit.

• Missing cash and drugs from criminal cases that should have been placed in evidence lockers. "We are seeing that has happened in one or two instances" out of hundreds of cases that were audited, Pyle said.

Schwemmer added: "We're not commenting on whether they're still missing or not." 

• Detectives "improperly taking small amounts of money and items from seized vehicles," including CDs, loose change and small personal items. Pyle said such actions "may be a common problem." Though the value of missing items doesn't add up to much, the fact that they were unaccounted for is a "serious issue," Pyle said.

• Officers collecting "trophies, trinkets or souvenirs" from narcotics cases, including candles, necklaces and "small items that are commonly associated with the drug trafficking culture." Such items may also have been used as training aids for other officers and the public, he said.

• Improper use of confidential informants, including using immigrants in the country illegally as informants. The problems regarded improper file keeping about the informants, and were not an issue of their safety.

• Improper use of GPS trackers in violation of law and internal procedures on "a couple of occasions." This includes using GPS trackers without warrants, Pyle said. 

The violations had apparently been occurring for some time.

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