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Prosecutors dismiss 69 more West Valley police cases

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WEST VALLEY CITY — Dozens of additional cases tied to the narcotics unit of the embattled West Valley City Police Department were thrown out on Monday.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill filed motions to dismiss 69 more cases. That means 96 criminal cases that were investigated by the department will not be prosecuted.

And there could be more.

"If you want to know what my criminal justice nightmare here is, we're just going through the first tier (of cases)," Gill said Monday, explaining that those investigations came directly from officers within the narcotics unit. He will later examine second, third and fourth tier cases where those officers had less involvement.

"We're just trying to get our arms around this issue right now."

Among the dismissed cases that will no longer be prosecuted:

  • Terry Christiansen, 41, was charged in 2012 with aggravated assault and possession of of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person in addition to drug possession, after prosecutors say he got into a fight with police trying to arrest him, and cut one of the officers with a knife. The officer sustained minor injuries.
  • Andrew Lee Jackson, 21, was facing felony drug distribution charges for allegedly selling marijuana, hashish and psychedelic mushrooms out of his house, located within 1,000 feet of West Valley Elementary School, in 2012. Twelve pounds of marijuana were found in Jackson's house, according to charging documents.
  • When prosecutors charged Timothy Raymond Jensen, 53, last year with drug distribution, police said they found methamphetamine and more than $15,000 cash in his house.
  • Herberto Martinez, 28, was charged was drug possession and DUI in 2011 after he allegedly drove over his mailbox, onto the sidewalk and into his fence. West Valley police said his blood-alcohol level was .215, or nearly three times the legal limit. He also allegedly told officers he had recently taken cocaine before driving.
  • Jacob Edward Mascaro, 21, was charged with drug distribution in January. He told police he had been selling psychedelic mushrooms and ecstasy "for several months" to "pay for school."
  • Margarita Soledad-Pina, 32, was charged with possession or use of a controlled substance after police said they found 307 pounds of marijuana and packaging materials concealed in the floorboards of a trailer in her garage.
  • Uriel Mendoza-Hermosillo, 28, and Saul Gonzalez-Perez, 27, were charged with possession with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by a restricted person after police said they discovered more than 85 grams of heroin, small amounts of marijuana, a scale, packaging materials and a handgun in their home with another 752 grams of heroin located in a vehicle.
  • Kevin Michael Rondas, 26, was charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a restricted person after police said they discovered "several boxes" of .45 caliber ammunition on his porch as well two rifles, more ammunition, and more than a dozen Xanax in his home.

He said the 69 cases are being dismissed "based upon issues of credibility as well as the interest of justice." The issues involving West Valley police have compromised the integrity of the evidence and his ability to obtain convictions, he said.

The district attorney said his office has so many cases to review that the investigation could keep him busy for years.

Gill previously dismissed 19 drug-related cases involving West Valley police because of credibility issues connected to allegations of corruption within the department. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office have also dismissed eight federal drug-related cases from West Valley City.

Monday's announcement came after West Valley officials on Friday concluded an internal investigation that uncovered six potential problem areas with the now disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. Those problems ranged from undisclosed amounts of missing drugs and money, to officers taking "trophies, trinkets or souvenirs" from drug-related crime scenes, to using GPS trackers without first securing a warrant.

The drug unit has been at the center of several investigations ever since 21-year-old Danielle Willard was shot and killed on Nov. 2 by two undercover drug officers, detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon. Both have been on administrative leave since the incident. The narcotics unit was disbanded in December.

Acting West Valley Police Chief Anita Schwemmer said evidence from a separate drug investigation was found in the trunk of Cowley's car when detectives conducted a routine search immediately following the Willard shooting. That led the department to launch an internal investigation.

In addition to missing cash and drugs, the taking of small amounts of cash and other items from seized vehicles, the improper use of GPS devices and collection of "souvenirs," the investigation also uncovered the improper use of confidential informants and improper handling of evidence within the drug unit.

Cowley's attorney has said she believes her client is being set up as the fall guy in the department's public relations crisis and believes the department intends to fire him.

More details about the dismissed cases will be provided as they become available.

Contributing: Sandra Yi, Andrew Wittenberg and McKenzie Romero

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