West Valley City Paid $650K to Settle Two Lawsuits Involving Disbanded, Discredited Neighborhood Narcotics Unit

Former West Valley City Police Lt. John Coyle, left, talks with his attorney Erik Strindberg at the West Valley City Civil Service Commission during his hearing at the West Valley City offices in West Valley City, Utah Monday, January 27, 2014. Coyle headed the department’s discredited and now-defunct Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

Salt Lake County, Utah – Last week, West Valley City agreed to pay out $650,000 to settle two federal court cases filed amidst allegations of police misconduct and the controversial disbanding of the discredited Neighborhood Narcotics Unit several years ago.

The city awarded half a million to Terry and Brandy Christiansen, who filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2014 alleging West Valley City police officers violated their civil rights and used excessive force during a 2012 drug bust.

And they agreed to pay $150,000 to Dante Donell Ketchens and Danielle Swasey, who claimed in a 2013 federal lawsuit that the agency’s narcotics officers violated their constitutional rights when they detained their family and searched their home without a warrant in 2012.

“It was determined that these settlements would be in the best financial interests of the city, thereby avoiding a long and expensive appeal process in the Christiansen case and a trial in the Swasey case,” city officials said in a Friday statement.

The settlements were reached last week, according to court records. Payment amounts were made public Friday in response to a Tribune records request, though other details of the settlements were confidential.

The lawyers who represented both couples in court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A jury last August awarded the Christiansens nearly $300,000, finding two officers — Lt. John Coyle and Detective Sean McCarthy — violated the couple’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, though jurors did not find the officers used excessive force or violated the couple’s right to be free from unreasonable search.
The city, however, appealed the jury verdict, arguing in court papers that the verdict was inconsistent and contradictory.

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