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West Valley City police officer appealing his demotion

Published January 16, 2014 12:42 pm

Law enforcement • John Coyle's lawyer says civil service panel must prove his client did something wrong.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The West Valley City Civil Service Commission asked for another week to decide whether the city's police department will be required to produce its Neighborhood Narcotics Unit officers to testify rather than rely on internal affairs reports in connection with a demoted officer's appeal.

The three commission members are also seeking additional time to considerJohn Coyle's request that his appeal hearing be closed to the public.

Coyle is appealing the department's decision to demote him from the position of lieutenant on the grounds that he inadequately supervised the city's beleaguered, now disbanded narcotics unit. City officials have declined to specify the exact terms of Coyle's discipline.

A city-led probe unearthed a number of problems with the unit, including mishandling of evidence, booking evidence without proper documentation — as well as the possibility of missing drugs and money. The probe also found that seized items, such as loose change or a CD in a seized vehicle, were improperly accounted for and that officers kept "trophies" from drug busts for themselves and for use as training aids.

As a result, state and federal prosecutors have tossed more than 120 cases linked to the unit.

West Valley City officials argued Thursday that their internal affairs reports are sufficient enough to represent their case, but Coyle's attorney argued that those reports would be considered hearsay, and the city must require other officers from the now-disbanded narcotics unit to testify in person.

"It would be very unfair to reopen their case," argued Martha Stonebrook, the city's attorney.

She said all the former narcotics officers — other than fired officer Shaun Cowley; Detective Kevin Salmon, who remains on paid administrative leave; and Coyle — have accepted their discipline and moved on and shouldn't be forced to re-address the matter.

"They have the legal obligation to prove my client did something wrong," Coyle's attorney Erik Strindberg responded. "We're entitled to hear [from them] first-hand."

Strindberg also moved to close Coyle's trial, which is slated to run Jan. 27-28, to the public. The Salt Lake Tribune objected to the closure.

The commission plans to rule on Coyle's motions at 7 a.m. Thursday.


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