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

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

• Uriel Mendoza-Hermosillo, 28, and Saul Gonzalez-Perez, 27, were charged with possession with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by a restricted person after police said they discovered more than 85 grams of heroin, small amounts of marijuana, a scale, packaging materials and a handgun in their home with another 752 grams of heroin located in a vehicle.

• Kevin Michael Rondas, 26, was charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a restricted person after police said they discovered "several boxes" of .45 caliber ammunition on his porch as well two rifles, more ammunition, and more than a dozen Xanax in his home.

Many of the dismissed cases seemed to be in limbo in court. In many cases, the defendant went on the run after his or her pre-trial release and then failed to show up for a subsequent court hearing.

Some of the newly-dismissed cases had already been dropped. One case was dismissed on March 20, according to court records. Gill filed a motion in court saying: "The plaintiff no longer has sufficient credible evidence to support a conviction."

Monday's announcement came on the heels of West Valley's dramatic press conference on Friday when city officials announced that an internal investigation had uncovered six potential problem areas with the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. Those problems ranged from undisclosed amounts of missing drugs and money, to officers taking "trophies, trinkets or souvenirs" from drug-related crime scenes, to using GPS trackers without first securing a warrant.

That investigation also uncovered the improper use of confidential informants and improper handling of evidence within the drug unit, as well as officers taking small amounts of cash and other items from seized vehicles.

The drug unit has been at the center of several investigations and controversy ever since 21-year-old Danielle Willard was shot and killed on Nov. 2 by two undercover drug detectives — Cowley and Kevin Salmon. Both have been on administrative leave since the incident.

Acting West Valley Police Chief Anita Schwemmer said evidence from a separate drug investigation was found in the trunk of Cowley's car when detectives conducted a routine search immediately following the Willard shooting. That led the department to launch an internal investigation and disband the narcotics unit in December.

Cowley's attorney has said she believes her client is being set up as the fall guy in the department's public relations crisis and believes the department intends to fire him.

Gill said Monday that dismissing the cases wasn't easy. And at this point, it was too early to tell if any officers will face potential criminal charges.

"Regardless of whether somebody is criminally charged or not, the concern for us has been that the conduct that has been alleged is so specific and so concerning ... it still is going to warrant this kind of response from us because it implicated very important constitutional protections as well as due-process rights of individuals who were involved. We have no choice but to dismiss these charges, as much as I don't want to," he said.

"The review is necessary to restore public trust, which is at risk of deteriorating."

Gill stressed, as he has in the past, that the problems are not widespread throughout the West Valley Police Department, but only rooted in a few officers.

"I think the average citizen is certainly frustrated, and I think the average citizen is rightfully concerned about what this means to the integrity of the system," he said. "I'm certainly hearing that when I go to the grocery store. But I think they also recognize not everyone is involved in it."

Calls placed to West Valley City officials for comment Monday were not returned.

Contributed: Emiley Morgan

E-mail: preavy@deseretnews.com, mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam, McKenzieRomero

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