69 more West Valley cases dismissed in 'criminal justice nightmare'

Published: Monday, April 15 2013 3:35 p.m. MDT

West Valley police detective Shaun Cowley sits on the ground as he is checked out by paramedics following the shooting death of Danielle Willard on Nov. 2, 2012. Nearly 100 criminal cases investigated by the department have now been dismissed because of credibility issues connected to allegations of corruption.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — The embattled West Valley Police Department received yet another blow Monday.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill filed motions to dismiss 69 more cases investigated by West Valley police. That brings the total number of criminal cases from the department that won't be prosecuted to 96.

And that could just be the beginning.

"If you want to know what my criminal justice nightmare here is, we're just going through the first tier (of cases)," Gill said Monday, explaining that those investigations came directly from officers within the narcotics unit. He will later examine second, third and fourth tier cases where those officers had less involvement.

"We're just trying to get our arms around this issue right now."

He said the 69 cases are being dismissed "based upon issues of credibility as well as the interest of justice." The issues involving West Valley police have compromised the integrity of the evidence and his ability to obtain convictions, he said.

The district attorney said his office has so many cases to review that the investigation could keep him busy for years.

Gill previously dismissed 19 drug-related cases involving West Valley police because of credibility issues connected to allegations of corruption within the department. Those cases had all been investigated by detective Shaun Cowley. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office have also dismissed eight federal drug-related cases from West Valley City.

The cases dismissed Monday extend beyond a single officer and involve multiple investigators from the former Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which was disbanded in December. And while the majority of the 69 cases involved felony drug distribution charges, some of the dismissed cases now extend to gang-related and violent crime cases. One case was filed back in 2009. The majority of the dismissed cases were from 2010 to 2013.

Among the dismissed cases that will no longer be prosecuted:

• Terry Christiansen, 41, was charged in 2012 with aggravated assault and possession of of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person in addition to drug possession, after prosecutors say he got into a fight with police trying to arrest him, and cut one of the officers with a knife. The officer sustained minor injuries.

• Andrew Lee Jackson, 21, was facing felony drug distribution charges for allegedly selling marijuana, hashish and psychedelic mushrooms out of his house, located within 1,000 feet of West Valley Elementary School, in 2012. Twelve pounds of marijuana were found in Jackson's house, according to charging documents.

• When prosecutors charged Timothy Raymond Jensen, 53, last year with drug distribution, police said they found methamphetamine and more than $15,000 cash in his house.

• Herberto Martinez, 28, was charged was drug possession and DUI in 2011 after he allegedly drove over his mailbox, onto the sidewalk and into his fence. West Valley police said his blood-alcohol level was .215, or nearly three times the legal limit. He also allegedly told officers he had recently taken cocaine before driving.

• Jacob Edward Mascaro, 21, was charged with drug distribution in January. He told police he had been selling psychedelic mushrooms and ecstasy "for several months" to "pay for school."

• Margarita Soledad-Pina, 32, was charged with possession or use of a controlled substance after police said they found 307 pounds of marijuana and packaging materials concealed in the floorboards of a trailer in her garage.

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