Lt. John Coyle was demoted to an officer after an internal affairs investigation determined he failed to show responsibility over the controversial narcotics squad.
Monday, Coyle was before West Valley Civil Commission appealing the demotion.
“What we have commissioners is a failure of leadership,” says Eric Bunderson, West Valley’s city attorney. “The leadership of then Lt. John Coyle failed.”
Coyle and seven other members of the narcotics squad in West Valley were either terminated or demoted following the shooting of Danielle Willard. Willard was allegedly shot by two officers during a confrontation. The district attorney called the shooting unjustified. The shooting caused the department to look deeper into the squad after one of the officers Shawn Cowley, allegedly fingered others in his unit of wrongdoing.
“It was a big enough failure of leadership to have 126 cases dismissed from federal and state court," says Bunderson. "The demotion stemmed from Coyle’s failure to act on a growing trend by the squad he supervised.
“(He was)allowing property including money to be taken out of cars to be used to buy drinks and snacks for the unit,” Bunderson told the panel. “(He was failing to supervise the proper documentation of booking of evidence and failure to properly supervise proper use of force.”
But Coyle's attorney says many of the allegations by the narcotics squad showed no evidence that Coyle had a hand in it.
“The city boxed itself in a corner in this place,” Eric Strandberg, Coyle’s attorney.
He said the police department was the target of negative publicity after the cases were dismissed and he says it was a knee jerk reaction by city leaders.
“Once the city made those accusations it painted itself in a corner where they had to take severe discipline against Mr. Coyle, otherwise it would be like they were lying or covering it up” Strandberg said.
On the stand, deputy police Chief Mike Powell who investigated Coyle says the lieutenant was disciplined not for participating but failing to oversee.
"What stood out for me was that there was a lack of direction for the entire neighborhood narcotics unit in several different aspects and that's what stood out to me,” Powell said.
Late in Monday’s hearing, two attorneys representing police officers targeted for testimony told the panel their clients would be taking the 5th amendment and would not attend the hearings.
That raised an objection by Strandberg who asked for the panel to stop the proceeding and reinstate Coyle to his previous position.
“My client has not been able to defend himself and this hearing is a farce,” Strandberg told the civil commission.
After a brief recess the commission returned and denied the motion. The hearing continues Tuesday.