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The Utah Court of Appeals has agreed with a decision by the West Valley City Civil Service Commission to reinstate Lt. John Coyle, who'd been demoted by the city following an investigation of the now-defunct Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.
The city demoted Coyle from lieutenant to patrol officer in August 2013 after finding that officers had violated a property-handling policy while Coyle was in charge of the unit. "When seized vehicles were cleaned out prior to be[ing] auctioned, property was removed and thrown away and change was collected and used to purchase [soft] drinks," the documents state.
In May 2014, the Civil Service Commission determined that though Coyle had violated police policies, the demotion "was disproportionate to the violations in question," according to court documents, and restored him to his previous rank, though an attorney said he would likely be assigned to an administrative job in the chief's office.
West Valley City requested the commission's ruling be overturned, alleging that the commission abused its discretion.
In the opinion released Thursday, Judge Gregory Orme said they city's accusations against the commission are "without merit."
The judges verified the commission's finding that Coyle's misconduct was "technical," or less serious, and "did not warrant demotion" when considered along with his lack of prior violations and when compared to punishments for officers with previous violations who were in a similar situation with the unit, Orme wrote.
Lawyers for West Valley City contended the commission excluded evidence detrimental to Coyle, but the appeals court said the city did not show how that evidence would have altered the commission's decision.
Judges noted that "essentially no harm" resulted from Coyle's violation.
They upheld the Commission's order that "Coyle be reinstated as a lieutenant and that he receive back pay for the time he was demoted," the documents state.
The fatal police shooting of Danielle Willard in November 2012 prompted the investigation into the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which was disbanded the next month after a number of problems were identified, including mishandling evidence, booking evidence without proper documentation and the possibility of missing drugs and money.
The Salt Lake County district attorney's office dismissed more than 100 criminal cases in the following months as a result of the investigation.
The city settled a wrongful death lawsuit from Willard's family for $1.425 million in February 2015.