- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) - A civil-service hearing began Monday for a demoted police lieutenant who headed a disbanded drug unit.

City administrators said they were holding John Coyle responsible for the drug unit’s failure to book evidence or account for drugs and money.

The problems with the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit were a “failure of leadership” that eventually led prosecutors to drop charges in 126 drug cases, West Valley City Attorney Eric Bunderson told the city’s Civil Service Commission.

Coyle’s attorney, Erik Strindberg, said he was being made a scapegoat. The demotion cut Coyle’s salary by $20,000 and was out of proportion to discipline handed to other officers on the drug unit, Strindberg said.

Coyle was the only one to be demoted. A sergeant, Michael Johnson, was suspended without pay for two weeks, Strindberg said.

Other members of the drug unit were disciplined, officials said.

City officials made their case Monday. Coyle’s attorney will put on a defense Tuesday. The civil-service panel can affirm or deny the demotion.

The investigation of the drug unit was triggered by an officer-involved fatal shooting in November 2012 during an undercover operation.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard unjustified.

No charges have been brought against the detectives involved in the shooting.

One of them, Shaun Cowley, was fired in September for a “pattern of behavior” that undermined investigations, West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo has said.

Cowley is challenging his firing in another hearing pending before the civil-service panel.

Coyle is named in two lawsuits, including a wrongful death suit filed by Willard’s family and a civil complaint filed by two suspects arrested by members of the narcotics unit who say their civil rights were violated.

On Monday, Deputy Chief Mike Powell testified that Coyle was cleared of allegations of theft, extortion, mishandling of cellphones and ID cards and using without authorization people living in the country illegally as informants.

Coyle, however, wasn’t properly reviewing or reporting incidents when guns were used or displayed by the unit’s officers, per department policy, Powell said. Coyle also took part in seizing loose change from cars and using the money to buy drinks, he said.

The problems “would not have occurred if Lt. Coyle had properly supervised his subordinates,” Powell said.

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