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West Valley City • City Council members on Tuesday unanimously ratified the hiring of Lee Russo as chief of police and approved a five-year employment agreement that pays the veteran cop $128,000 annually plus benefits.

Russo, a former Kentucky police chief with three decades of law-enforcement experience, was picked by City Manager Wayne Pyle from a field of 36 candidates to lead the troubled West Valley City Police Department. He replaces Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen, who retired in March, citing medical reasons.

"It's a good new chapter for our city," Councilman Tom Huynh said.

Russo, 49, led the Covington, Ky., Police Department from 2007 to 2012 and, before that, worked in the Baltimore County Police Department in Maryland, rising through the ranks to become a captain and precinct commander.

He has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Delaware and a master's degree in business management and organizational development from Johns Hopkins University.

The West Valley City Police Department has been under fire for the alleged mishandling of evidence by members of its Neighborhood Narcotics Unit and the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Aug. 8 that the use of deadly force was not justified. His office is screening possible criminal charges against the officers, who deny any wrongdoing in the shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard.

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC

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