WEST VALLEY CITY — An audit of investigations that were handled by the West Valley Police Department's former sex crimes unit uncovered problems with 15 cases.
And although the issues have since been resolved, West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo said the department's Internal Affairs unit will now be tasked with finding out if the problems were the result of bad communication or intentional deceit.
On Tuesday, Russo released the findings of an inquiry into the former unit. Specifically, the audit looked into whether cases handled by the unit in 2012 were set aside without being investigated, and whether a former member of the unit closed cases without first doing the required investigative protocols.
The audit found 10 cases that were allegedly handed over to the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office or the West Valley City attorney to be reviewed for possible charges, yet attorneys had no record of ever receiving them, Russo said. All 10 cases were handled by a single officer.
The question now is what went wrong, and what do we need to do to fix it. Are these just errors in administrative handling of the case by the investigator or was there some level of intentional deceit?
–Chief Lee Russo, WVCPD
Those cases have since been filed and are moving through the court process. The officer involved in all 10 of those cases still works for the West Valley Police Department but in another unit, Russo said. Internal Affairs will now conduct additional review of what happened. The chief expects the review to be completed in about 45 days.
"The question now is what went wrong, and what do we need to do to fix it," Russo said. "Are these just errors in administrative handling of the case by the investigator or was there some level of intentional deceit?"
An additional five cases were screened by the district attorney's office and returned to West Valley police for additional investigation. But once they were sent back to detectives, the cases were somehow forgotten and never looked at again.
"Unfortunately, some of those cases fell through the cracks and were left waiting for follow up," Russo said.
Some of those cases went untouched for months before being discovered through the audit, he said. All of them have since been re-filed with the district attorney's office.
A total of 260 cases were reviewed for the audit. The majority of those were misdemeanor, domestic-violence related crimes, Russo said. Although he was pleased that the majority of cases were handled properly, "having one case (mishandled) is one case too many.
"I don't like to find out a victim was left out there hanging. That's inexcusable," Russo said, while offering an apology to the victims whose cases were lost or forgotten.
Russo said his department will be making changes to establish better accountability and communication, both within the department and with the district attorney's office, to ensure cases didn't get lost in an email or fax.
Members of the former sex crimes unit during the time of the alleged misconduct have either been transferred to a different division or no longer work for West Valley police.
Because of the audit of the sex crimes unit, Russo announced recently he was also conducting an audit of all the department's cases over the past year, which includes more than 1,000 felonies and misdemeanors. He expects that audit to be completed in about a month.
The chief also announced a new partnership with the Utah Attorney General’s Office through the Utah Prosecution Council, scheduled to begin in January, which will focus on new training for sexual assault and other traumatic cases.
Contributing: Sandra Yi