Appeals court sides with WVC cop demoted over narcotics unit troubles

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals has sided with a police officer who claimed he was wrongly demoted following allegations leveled against the West Valley City Police Department’s Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

In a ruling released Friday, the state appellate court ruled in favor of John Coyle and the West Valley City Civil Service Commission, which reinstated his rank over the objections of the city and police department.

File Photo: John Coyle

File Photo: John Coyle

“The City’s contentions that the Commission abused its discretion are without merit. The Commission made sufficient findings of fact and relied on all of the grounds for termination cited by the Police Chief. Any errors it might have made in the exclusion of evidence are deemed harmless because the City has failed to demonstrate prejudice. The Commission acted within its discretion in determining that the severity of Coyle’s violations did not warrant demotion and that demotion was inconsistent with the discipline imposed on similarly situated employees,” Judge Gregory Orme wrote.

Trouble surrounded West Valley City Police Department’s Neighborhood Narcotics Unit back in 2012 following the police shooting of Danielle Willard. It led to accusations that officers in that unit had mishandled seized property, including claims that officers kept money (“change was collected and used to purchase soft drinks,” the ruling stated). The Salt Lake County District Attorney dismissed more than 100 cases tied to the unit over the scandal.

Coyle, who was the lieutenant of the unit, was among a number of officers disciplined by the department over the scandal. He appealed his demotion, arguing it was the most severe of all. The Civil Service Commission agreed and reinstated him. The city took it to the Utah Court of Appeals.

Last year, the West Valley City Police Department revived the unit with new operating guidelines.

Read the ruling here: