WEST VALLEY CITY – Representatives of Utah’s Latino community met with West Valley City acting Police Chief Anita Schwemmer for 3 1/2 hours Wednesday to air concerns about the recent dismissal of 124 state and federal drug cases.
A majority of the defendants whose cases were dismissed are Latino, which has raised “red flags,” according to Tony Yapias, representing the Latino community.
But after meeting with Schwemmer and City Manager Wayne Pyle, the group was assured that the dismissals of the cases were largely tied to evidentiary problems, Yapias said.
As for people who had concerns about the possibility of racial profiling or civil rights violations, "after this meeting, they should be at ease with that," he said.
The closed-door meeting, conducted at West Valley City Hall, was facilitated by the Denver office of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service.
The parties described the meeting as "constructive."
Schwemmer said she welcomed the opportunity to forge closer ties with the Latino community and to encourage an open dialogue moving forward.
"This has been a really good first step in the process. We know it's going to be a process rebuilding trust with the community, not just the Latino community, but the entire community," Schwemmer said.
The Latino community has committed to help facilitate community meetings with the police department. For its part, the police department said it would conduct "cultural competency training" with officers. Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, who took part in the meeting, will help organize the training.
The city will also make its online complaint form regarding the police department available in Spanish. Presently, it is in English but Schwemmer said Asian languages may also be added.
Yapias said the discussion also brought to light the growing problem of Latinos using, distributing and abusing narcotics. "We have a problem in our community," he said. "As a community, we have to deal with it."
According to the Department of Justice website, the Community Relations Service is a “peacemaker for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color and national origin.” It does not conduct any investigative functions and information exchanged in meetings between parties is confidential.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office would not comment about the specific concerns raised by members of the Latino community. Officials have said the cases were dismissed due to a lack of evidence amid allegations of police corruption and an unlikelihood of achieving convictions in court.
The West Valley City Police Department has disbanded its Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. State, federal and local investigations are underway regarding the operations of the unit, a fatal officer-involved shooting of a 21-year-old woman and ongoing review of criminal cases resulting from arrests by the city’s narcotics officers. Most of the 124 cases that were dismissed involved defendants facing state charges.
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