Records: West Valley narcotics officers have disciplinary history
Probe • Officers remain on paid leave during ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption.
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At the same time newly minted West Valley City narcotics detective Shaun Cowley was being trained as an evidence custodian for his unit, the detective assigned to teach him was being reprimanded for mishandling money.

According to a discipline letter released Wednesday by West Valley City police in response to a public-records request, detective James Terrill was tasked with instructing Cowley during a joint operation of the city's Neighborhood Narcotics Unit (NNU) and the DEA's Metro Narcotics Task Force that netted two pounds of methamphetamine on July 15, 2010.

Terrill was ordered not to count seized money because it would violate DEA policy, which requires a bank to count currency. But Terrill decided to count the $3,900 anyway, which meant the DEA couldn't seize it, according to the letter written by his supervisor, Lt. John Coyle.

"When asked why you had counted the money, you responded that you and Detective Cowley had made a 'side bet' on the amount and had 'nothing better to do,' " Coyle wrote. "This act is egregious because you were counseled by several people not to count the seized U.S. currency and yet you still chose to do so. You also chose to count the seized U.S. currency in the presence of a new detective. You had been entrusted to teach and mentor Detective Cowley in the responsibilities of evidence custodian, not bend the rules for personal satisfaction."

The discipline records released Wednesday for several officers connected to the now-disbanded NNU show multiple suspensions, mistakes in handling evidence, an illegal search, an allegation of stolen money and repeated write-ups for violations of department policy.

While Terrill, who has since left WVCPD, hasn't been linked to an ongoing investigation involving the NNU, nine other officers — Cowley, Coyle, Sgt. Michael Johnson, and detectives Ricardo Franco, Sean McCarthy, Rafael Frausto, Chris Smith, Kevin Salmon and Barbara Lund — have been placed on paid administrative leave.

Attorneys representing Cowley, Frausto, Franco and Johnson said Wednesday they had no comment. None of the other five officers — or their legal representatives — could immediately be reached on Wednesday.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney and the U.S. District Attorney for Utah together have dismissed a total of 125 criminal cases linked to members of the unit, which is the subject of local, state and federal probes investigating allegations of corruption, mishandling evidence and booking evidence without proper documentation, as well as the possibility of missing drugs and money. The disciplinary records released Wednesday are not related to those investigations.

Several of the incidents included in the officers' disciplinary files involve apparent problems with evidence handling.

Lund once got in trouble for accidentally leaving on top of her patrol vehicle two pill bottles, marijuana and drug paraphernalia that were evidence in an arrest she was making. She drove away, and the evidence fell off the car.

While the department noted that Lund immediately came forward to admit her mistake and that her actions were inadvertent, the case had to be dropped, the file shows.

"It is crucial that you maintain a sold chain of custody regarding evidence of any type of crime," a supervisor wrote. "Because evidence was lost, charges against [defendant] had to be dropped and the evidence was left for anyone to find. Fortunately, another officer recovered the evidence a short time later when stopping another individual."

In October 2012, Smith was disciplined by Coyle for improperly handling seized money. After he and his colleagues had counted the currency, sealed it in an envelope and signed it, Smith reopened the envelope and removed $20, giving it to one of the suspects who asked for it, Coyle wrote.

But the action prompted an internal investigation after Smith admitted he had removed it in what Coyle wrote was a "lapse of judgment."

In another incident, a citizen alleged in 2001 that he was "separated from his wallet" and the $363 it contained when officers responded to a party.

The man alleged one of the "officers at the party took his wallet," according to the complaint, which was placed in McCarthy's file after it was found to be "sustained," although ultimately no action was taken against McCarthy or the other officer.

Frausto was disciplined after violating department policy because he failed to go to the aid of an officer involved in a large currency seizure.

In 2003, McCarthy was reprimanded for illegally entering and searching a residence; he was also disciplined for ignoring two subpoenas to testify in court, records show.

In all, McCarthy racked up nearly 50 hours of suspensions in a little more than a decade.

One suspension was for failing to report to a supervisor that a sergeant was allegedly impaired. Another was for insubordination for making such statements as "F—- the Captain" or "F—- Sandquist. I'm not scared of Sandquist, he's a pussy," after he was threatened with discipline if he didn't meet a department deadline for K-9 training.

"Your explanation of having a problem with choosing your words correctly, that your mouth has gotten you into problems before prove true in this incident," his supervisor wrote in the insubordination letter.

Johnson was suspended one week without pay in 2010, but records released by the department did not reveal why. Frausto was suspended one day for being involved in a preventable accident, and Smith received two days for neglecting duty, though no additional details were provided.

Cowley and Salmon both had two written warnings in their files.

Cowley's reprimands involved using vulgar language, driving his vehicle outside city limits and improperly getting involved in a chase, while Salmon's were procedural violations for failing to change his oil and not wearing a seat belt.

Disciplinary records show Coyle and Franco both only had one incident noted in their files and that was for vehicle infractions.

jstecklein@sltrib.com

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