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Former West Valley lieutenant's demotion overturned

By Morgan Jacobsen | Posted - May 16th, 2014 @ 9:36am

WEST VALLEY CITY — A civil service commission for West Valley City overturned the demotion of a former police lieutenant who oversaw the department's narcotics unit before it was disbanded in 2012.

The Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, headed by John Coyle, was under scrutiny after officers were discovered to have mishandled drugs and money, kept items seized in cases, and committed other policy violations that led to the dismissal of 126 state and federal felony cases.

Coyle was cleared in an internal investigation but was demoted to patrol officer in August last year. He appealed the demotion through the city's civil service commission, and the decision to reinstate Coyle as lieutenant was released Thursday.

The commission said Coyle had committed "technical violations" of policy, but "the severity of Lt. Coyle's discipline — demotion — is disproportionate to his conduct as the lieutenant in charge of the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit when examined in light of his previous disciplinary history and the supervision he received," the commission stated in its written decision.

Further, the commission ruled that the demotion "is not consistent with the treatment of other officers for similar conduct."

Commission's findings:
Discipline was:
  • Disproportionate to conduct
  • Inconsistent with treatment of other officers

The decision was met with disappointment from the department, according to West Valley police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku.

"We respect the civil service commission and the work that they do. However, we strongly disagree with the decision that was made," she said. "We stand behind the discipline (and) feel it was absolutely appropriate."

Vainuku said there was a "strong likelihood" that the department would file an appeal.

The department saw Coyle's violations of policy as more severe due to his rank and the level of influence he had in the department, Vainuku said.

"Violations of department policy at the level of police lieutenant are violations that affect an entire department," she said.

We stand behind the discipline (and) feel it was absolutely appropriate.

–Roxeanne Vainuku

Coyle will receive back pay amounting to about $20,000 and will be assigned to administrative duties in the office of the chief until a more permanent placement is determined, Vainuku said.

Coyle's attorney, Erik Strindberg, said he was "impressed" with how the commission handled the case.

"Disciplinary decisions are always sort of made in the heat of the moment," Strindberg said. "Civil service commissions are important because they get to look at all of the evidence in a calm light. … They really took a hard, careful look at the evidence, and I firmly believe made the correct decision."


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