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West Valley City Agrees to Pay $50,000 to Plaintiffs in “Gang Sweep” Case

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A federal court on Monday entered a judgment against West Valley City and its police chief in a lawsuit brought by the parents of three former West High School students over a 2010 “gang sweep” inside the school.

West Valley City has agreed to pay $50,000 to the three plaintiffs, while disclaiming liability in the lawsuit. The case was filed in 2013 in response to a police action at West High, where a joint-agency gang task force entered the school, detained students, interrogated them, photographed them holding signs listing their purported gang affiliations, and entered their information in a police database.

The class action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union claims that all the students detained were racial minorities. John Mejia, Legal Director for the ACLU of Utah, is concerned about the possibility of racial profiling and the violation of students’ rights then and now.

“The most important thing about this case to us has always been about trying to achieve policy change,” Mejia says. “We would call on city officials and city leaders to take a good hard look at the policies that lead to what happened in 2010 and change them in writing to make sure that never happens again.”

The ACLU of Utah is calling on police and gang units to adopt policies that would prohibit the detention, interrogation, search, or “mug-shot” style photos of students suspected of gang activity while they’re in school. West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle was unavailable for an interview, but said in a written statement that the city only had one officer participating in the multi-agency task force.

“It made no financial sense to continue to pay legal fees on the defense. We do not acknowledge any liability and we do not admit to any wrong doing," Pyle said. While West Valley City is no longer part of the suit, the police departments of Salt Lake City and West Jordan, Salt Lake County and the Salt Lake City School District remain as defendants. A trial is scheduled for August 2017.

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