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New allegations made against West Valley City police in federal court filings

Published: Monday, July 7 2014 10:20 p.m. MDT

West Valley police officer Shaun Cowley is taken to an ambulance by paramedics after he shot and killed Danielle Willard, 21, during a drug investigation on Nov. 2, 2012. A hearing appealing his dismissal from the department was delayed Wednesday for the third time, angering Willard's mother.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — The attorney for the family of Daneille Willard says there's no reason to delay their civil suit against former West Valley police detective Shaun Cowley, the department's former chief and the city.

In filing their motion Monday in federal court, Willard's attorneys also raised new allegations against members of the embattled police department, including "hush money" being paid out by the city to officers to keep quiet about sexual conduct with potential drug suspects.

Willard, 21, was shot and killed on Nov. 2, 2012, while sitting in her car during a botched undercover drug operation by West Valley police. Cowley, the former West Valley police detective at the center of the shooting controversy, was charged last month by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill with manslaughter, a second-degree felony.

Cowley is scheduled to make his first court appearance Tuesday.

A federal civil suit was also filed on behalf of Melissa Kennedy, Willard's mother, and the estate of Danielle Willard against West Valley City, Cowley, West Valley police detective Kevin Salmon, former West Valley Police Chief Thayne "Buzz" Nielsen, and John Coyle.

Nielsen, Cowley and the city recently filed separate motions requesting the civil case be put on hold pending the outcome of Cowley's criminal case.

In their response filed Monday, attorneys for Willard acknowledge that while Cowley "might" have reason to stay his proceedings and not be deposed during his criminal case, Nielsen and the others can make no such claim.

"It is clear that defendants are seeking only to stay this case in order to delay the entry of a judgment against them," according to court documents.

Attorneys for Willard call it a "blatant dilatory tactic."

While arguing against a delay, attorneys also noted in court documents that "it has also become clear, due to recent discovery in this case, that defendants might be seeking this stay in order to delay the disclosure of outrageous facts that are not only harmful to their defense but reveals that they still employ criminals."

Willard's attorney claims more incidents of corruption within the department have been uncovered than were previously reported. Specifically, they point to information learned during the deposition of West Valley city manager Wayne Pyle last week.

"One officer who was being investigated for his illegal behavior actually extorted a cash buyout in exchange for his resignation as opposed to him going public with the corruption in the department. This officer explicitly demanded 'hush money' when meeting with city administrators, and they willingly agreed to pay $10,000 in 'hush money,'" according to court documents.

A portion of the deposition given by Willard's Los Angeles-based attorney Mark Geragos to Pyle was provided in court documents released Monday.

"Mr. Geragos: Okay. Did you know about the accusations of his sexual liaisons with potential suspects while on his shift at the time that the $10,000 was authorized?

"Mr. Pyle: Yes.

"Mr. Geragos: And you knew that he was calling that hush money so he wouldn't talk?

"Mr. Pyle: I was aware of that after as (assistant city manager) Mr. (Paul) Isaac made it known to me, yes.

"Mr. Geragos: Okay. Were you aware at the time that (the officer) wanted — was it $10,000 payment?

"Mr. Pyle: I don't remember.

"Mr. Geragos: Whatever it was, you had authorized it at the time; right?

"Mr. Pyle: Uh-huh."

"The deposition of city manager Wayne Pyle taken on July 2, 2014, has shed light on the corruption and illegal conduct within the West Valley police. In addition to having knowledge of the payment of 'hush money' to conceal crimes by the West Valley police … Mr. Pyle testified to having knowledge of officers confiscating drugs and contraband from suspects for their own personal use and confiscating cash for a 'drink fund'; … officers having sexual relations with suspects; and officers misappropriating cellphones and other personal property from individuals suspected of being illegal aliens," according to court records.

Willard's attorneys have also asked that Cowley's request to stay the civil suit pending the criminal proceedings be denied.

The Deseret News attempted to contact several West Valley officials late Monday but did not receive a response by deadline.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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