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Job hearing reset for West Valley City cop who shot Danielle Willard

Published April 23, 2014 8:00 pm

Job action • Commission will hear appeal starting May 8.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

West Valley City • The hearing to determine whether the police officer who shot and killed Danielle Willard can have his job back was postponed again Wednesday, and the fired officer's attorneys were admonished for showing a "lack of respect" to the panel weighing the matter.

West Valley City's Civil Service Commissioner Bill Leach said the three-member panel nearly dismissed Shaun Cowley's appeal, but instead decided to reschedule the hearing. All sides have until May 8 to review the evidence. The hearing is likely to be scheduled for five days this summer.

Leach said Cowley's attorneys "showed a lack of respect" for the commission and the witnesses who planned to testify.

"But in the end, the commission feels Mr. Cowley deserves the time of this hearing," Leach explained.

At issue was the evidence Cowley's lawyers planned to present. The attorneys, Lindsay Jarvis and Keith Stoney, provided their exhibits to city attorneys about noon Tuesday. The exhibits amounted to a 6-inch-thick binder. West Valley City attorney Martha Stonebrook told the commission she had not had time to review it and would need days to do so.

Jarvis and Stoney also provided what Stonebrook described as only vague descriptions of the evidence they would present. In one example cited by Leach, a batch of evidence was labeled as documents originating with former West Valley City Police Chief Buzz Nielsen.

Jarvis countered that the city knows what the evidence is because most of the evidence originated with it. The city has been slow to provide the documents Cowley requested, Jarvis said.

Jarvis also was concerned the commission had not yet ruled on the other West Valley City officer to appeal punishment for the scandal that has enveloped the police department. John Coyle was the lieutenant in charge of the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit before his demotion to a rank-and-file officer.

Jarvis said a ruling in the Coyle case would be important to Cowley.

"The transcripts will show John Coyle was an absentee supervisor," Jarvis said. "He did nothing to supervise the people in his unit."

Jarvis plans to argue her client drew a disproportionate punishment for a narcotics unit and police department rife with problems. One of Jarvis' planned witnesses is to testify that, according to motions filed with the commission, a city officer extorted her once and robbed her another time. The witness also is to testify a second officer returned the stolen money after the FBI began investigating the department.

It's the third time Cowley's hearing has been postponed.

Melissa Kennedy, Willard's mother, spoke to reporters after Wednesday's proceeding.

"I'm pissed," Kennedy stated. She traveled to Utah from Washington state to attend the hearing.

"I wanted to make sure Cowley doesn't get his job back," Kennedy said. "That's not too [unreasonable] is it?"

Cowley was not fired for killing Willard. The city has said Cowley mishandled evidence and was insubordinate. Yet Willard's supporters have latched onto Cowley's case and the other problems at the West Valley City Police Department.

Kennedy sat in a seat four rows behind the city's attorneys. Her attorney and about 10 supporters, some wearing or holding red T-shirts reading "JUSTICE FOR DANIELLE WILLARD," sat around her.

On the other side of the City Council Chambers sat a row of nine people wearing orange ribbons. They appeared to back Cowley, who wore an orange necktie as he sat next to his two attorneys and their assistant.

At least two uniform-clad city police officers stood in the rear of the chambers at all times, apparently to provide security. There were no incidents between the opposing sides.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle