WEST VALLEY CITY — Embattled ex-West Valley police detective Shaun Cowley has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against his former employer.

On Monday, Cowley sued West Valley City, its police department, City Manager Wayne Pyle, both the current Chief Lee Russo and former chiefs Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen and Anita Schwimmer, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and four other West Valley officers, claiming his rights to due process, unreasonable search and seizure, and equal protection were violated.

In his suit, Cowley contends the ongoing saga between him and West Valley City actually began before he shot and killed Danielle Willard when he confronted a superior officer about an alleged illegal search.

Later that year, in 2012, Cowley shot Willard, 21, during an undercover drug operation. The district attorney's office determined the shooting was not legally justified and charged Cowley with criminal manslaughter. In an extremely rare move, however, a judge dismissed the charge at the preliminary hearing stage, stating it did not meet the low probable cause standard.

West Valley City fired Cowley in September of 2013. But he appealed his termination, claiming he was only performing his duties as his police superiors had taught him. Cowley, who had no intention of working for the city again, was temporarily reinstated as an officer after West Valley opted not to continue the drawn out fight in 2015, thus making Cowley eligible to receive back wages and benefits he said he was due. After an agreement on back pay was reached, Cowley "resigned" from the department.

Cowley believes West Valley City made him a scapegoat to cover up larger problems within their former Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

"Police Chief Nielsen was responsible for the police department’s attempts to scapegoat Shaun Cowley both for the death of Danielle Willard and for the Neighborhood Narcotic Unit’s failures to properly process evidence," Cowley's complaint states.

The suit goes on to say that Nielsen's successor, Schwimmer, "continued West Valley’s attempts to scapegoat Shaun Cowley by withholding police policies which ultimately vindicated Shaun Cowley," and later Russo "was responsible for continuing the police department’s attempts to scapegoat Shaun Cowley for the death of Danielle Willard and for the Neighborhood Narcotic Unit’s failures to properly process evidence."

Cowley's attorney, Tyler Ayers, noted Tuesday that the lawsuit is not directly about the Willard shooting.

"This has nothing to do with the tragic events of Danielle Willard. This is about how West Valley City responded and how they treated (Cowley). It has nothing to do about whether it was a good shooting," he said.

The lawsuit also accuses Deputy Police Chief Phil Quinlan of violating Internal Affairs procedures when he "spearheaded both the administrative and criminal investigation" of Cowley; Deputy Chief Mike Powell of witness tampering "by ordering fellow police officers to not appear at Shaun Cowley’s termination appeal;" and detective John Croyle of "both by breaking into Shaun Cowley’s locker and destroying its contents, and fabricating a training manual regarding searches of evidence lockers. Detective David Greco is also named in the complaint.

Cowley accuses Gill of making "false and defamatory statements to the public" regarding the Willard shooting.

"I’ve become a villain in the eyes of the public," he said in 2015. "But I’ve always had the truth on my side. I became a scapegoat for a police department faced with allegations of corruption."

West Valley City issued a brief statement Tuesday: "We are disappointed that Shaun Cowley, who voluntarily resigned from West Valley City, has decided to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city. We have yet to be served, but we intend to vigorously defend any suit brought against the city by Mr. Cowley."

In his federal filing, Cowley seeks a jury ruling. Ayers said Cowley has not determined how much he is seeking in damages.

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