Dirty Cops Raised Hell, Family Says
By JONNY BONNER
SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Corrupt Utah police “ate pizza and played video games” for eight hours in couple’s home, while mocking their children and handcuffing the parents to keep them from caring for the toddlers, the family claims in court.
Danielle Swasey and Dante Ketchens and their two children sued West Valley City and five of its police officers, in Federal Court.
The parents claim their family’s abuse was just one incident in “widespread and systematic corruption” in the city’s undercover drug force. Seven officers have been put on administrative leave, one killed himself, and state and federal prosecutors have dismissed more than 110 cases because of the police corruption, the family says in the lawsuit.
Named as individual defendants are Shaun Cowley, Kevin Salmon, Sean McCarthy, John Coyle, and Thayle “Buzz” Nielsen.
West Valley City, pop. 129,500, is a southwest suburb of Salt Lake City. It is the second-largest city in Utah.
Ketchens claims that West Valley police followed him to his home in West Valley City on Aug. 15, 2012.
“Thereafter Officers Cowley, Salmon, McCarthy and Coyle and Does 1-6 conducted an unlawful and illegal search of [Ketchens’] home that he occupied with his girlfriend, Danielle Swasey, their infant child, D.S., and Dante Ketchens’ young son, D.K.,” the complaint states. “The officers handcuffed both Dante Ketchens and Danielle Swasey for more than eight hours. Plaintiff Danielle Swasey was therefore unable to adequately and freely care for her infant daughter. She was unable to change diapers or to provide the infant with love and care throughout the day, and preventing Danielle Swasey from caring for their infant daughter, D.S. D.K. had only been living with his father for a short time and was subjected to this frightening and illegal search, as well as humiliation, ridicule, and harassment.
“The entire family was held by the officers and prevented from normal activities for more than eight hours while the West Valley police officers searched the home. None of the plaintiffs were free to leave, and thus unlawfully detained and held against their will. After having already searched the home, the officers sought a search warrant supported by the forged signature of Dante Ketchens. During the extended period that the officers remained in the Swasey-Ketchens’ home, they ate pizza and played video games, while mocking Danielle Swasey and the children. Danielle Swasey was handcuffed the entire time and was unable to change her infant daughter’s diapers, and had to feed her while she was handcuffed. During the long period that the officers invaded the Swasey-Ketchens’ home, Danielle Swasey was unable to comfort and properly care for her infant daughter.”
Officers arrested, released and re-arrested Ketchens on a charge of possession of a controlled substance, the plaintiffs say, and he spent four months in jail before the charges were dismissed.
“Using a forged signature to obtain an after-the-fact warrant, Dante Ketchens was arrested on alleged possession of a controlled substance,” the complaint states. “He was released within 72 hours from the Salt Lake County jail. On or about Sept. 7, 2012, West Valley police Officers Shaun Cowley and Sean McCarthy went to Dante Ketchens’ barber shop and re-arrested him. D.S. was present at the time. Once again, D.S. was subjected to humiliation and ridicule when one of the officers stated that his father would get out of prison around the same time that D.K. would be going to prison.
“Ultimately all charges in Federal Court against Dante Ketchens were dismissed, after Dante Ketchens spent almost four months in custody. He was released by order of the chief United States magistrate judge on Dec. 17, 2012.”
The family calls this part of “widespread and systematic corruption” in West Valley Police Department’s narcotics unit.
“Since these unlawful events, it has been uncovered that the narcotics unit of West Valley Police Department, where Officers Cowley, Salmon, and McCarthy were assigned, engaged in a pattern and practice of illegal conduct and widespread and systemic corruption, sanctioned by the West Valley Police Department,” the complaint states.
“In the last year, the narcotics unit of the West Valley Police Department was disbanded. To date, two supervisors and at least five other rank and narcotics unit officers have been placed on administrative leave, along with Officers Cowley and Salmon; another West Valley City Police Department officer, Michael Valdes, was discovered in Wyoming, dead from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound; and Chief Nielsen has retired.
“West Valley City admits to rampant corruption and systemic constitutional violations by its officers, including mishandling of evidence, confiscation of drugs for personal benefit, theft of seized property, illegal use of GPS tracking systems, improper use of confidential drug informants, and commission of perjury.
“In the last year, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has sought the dismissal of more than 100 criminal cases and the United States attorney’s office has dismissed more than 10 criminal cases as a result of the illegal conduct of the defendant officers and others within the department.”
Last week, Gil announced conclusions in the officer-involved shooting death of unarmed 21-year-old Danielle Willard, in 2012.
Detectives Cowley and Salmon – who fired six shots into Willard’s Subaru Forester in an apartment parking lot – were not justified in using deadly force , the district attorney said in the 40-page report.
Willard’s mother, Melissa Kennedy, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Federal Court in June against West Valley City and 14 police officers. That case is pending.
Swasey and Ketchens seek punitive damages for civil rights violations, unlawful arrest and detention, and emotional distress.
They are represented by Mark Geragos of Los Angeles and Jon Williams of Salt Lake City.