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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Attorney for Former WVC detective looks for justification of firing

By Andrew Adams | Posted - Dec 19th, 2013 @ 6:56pm


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WEST VALLEY CITY — He wants his job back. Now, a fired West Valley City Police detective is preparing to mount a week-long appeal next near, the likes of which the city and even Cowley's own lawyer may have never seen before nor attempted.

Some of Shaun Cowley's legal strategy became more apparent Thursday during a meeting of the West Valley City Civil Service Commission.

Attorney Lindsay Jarvis demanded numerous documents for discovery, said she planned to subpoena officers and police brass about the termination, and pleaded with the commission to make the city present its case first for firing Cowley.

"My concern is that if the city doesn't outline each of its allegations and each of its [internal affairs investigations], for you to get to a conclusion - it's going to be very confusing," Jarvis said.

City rules have placed the burden on the person appealing a termination, she said.

"If that was the case, I'd stand here and say ‘no facts are on the record - we rest!'" Jarvis said. "And we would prevail at that point."

City public safety attorney Martha Stonebrook argued that different cities approach the process differently, and there was no need for a change in procedure.

"Your rules as they stand right this very minute carry out that statutory purpose," Stonebrook told the commission.

Despite Stonebrook's objections, the commission ultimately voted to make a one-time exception and have the city present first its case for firing Cowley.

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"It's logically incoherent," Jarvis said of the city's standard approach. "It doesn't give commissioners an opportunity to actually listen to what the facts are."

The order of presentation also matters to Cowley's lawyer, because she plans to attack the city's justification for the firing.

"We believe this is a city-forced termination," Jarvis said to reporters. "This is not because of Shaun Cowley's behavior - this is because the city is trying to avoid a lawsuit."

Cowley, who appeared before the commission but did not speak to reporters, was let go over alleged improper handling of evidence in the narcotics unit.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney has also ruled that Cowley was not legally justified in the November 2012 fatal shooting of Danielle Willard.

Jarvis has argued those who investigated Cowley's actions had conflicts of interest. She said Cowley received a harsher punishment than other officers who had done worse.

Jarvis said she planned to compel officers to talk about the dismissal through subpoenas.

"I also want the police chief as well as the assistant chief who made this decision to take the stand and tell us why this recommendation was what it was," she said.

The commission set several future dates in the case, including a Jan. 6 deadline for Jarvis to receive documents and evidence for discovery.

Cowley's job appeal hearing was scheduled as a week-long event for the week of Feb. 24.

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