DA: Probe into fatal Willard shooting likely to take at least two months
The Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Tuesday he expects it will take at least two more months to determine whether the officer-involved shooting that killed 21-year-old Danielle Willard was justified.
"I can promise you one thing, I don't want it to take one more day than it has to," Gill said.
Meanwhile, attorneys representing Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, argued Tuesday before the Salt Lake County Council that documents related to the November fatal shooting should be released under Utah's public record's laws. Gill's office had denied the request on the grounds that the information is protected because of the ongoing investigation and that, in any case, the records belong to West Valley City and Kennedy's attorneys are asking the wrong entity for them.
Jon Williams, who was retained to represent Kennedy, argued that the denial of the records was "inappropriate" and in order for Kennedy to potentially file a complaint or civil lawsuit, she must have the information needed to do so.
"There's no other means in which to get it," he said, noting that while he hasn't asked West Valley City for the records, he fears that they will send him right back to the District Attorney's Office.
Willard was killed by West Valley City detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon during an alleged drug bust.
Williams argued that even if some of the information is protected, other aspects should still be made public, like photos of the shooting scenes, the names of who responded, and whether toxicology testing was performed on Cowley and Salmon.
Gill said he wants to be "forthcoming" and "cooperative," but the issue involves an ongoing investigation that is complicated and it's important to make sure it's done right.
"This is not your typical case," Gill said. "This is something very complicated, very nuanced. There are multiple moving pieces. At the end of the day, this case is nothing like any other case I've come across in the 20 years of my career."
He said the initial investigation into whether Cowley and Salmon were justified in shooting Willard has spawned three more investigations including allegations of a cover-up linked to Willard's death and allegations of criminal activity against one particular officer, who he hasn't named. The investigation into that one officer then spread to multiple officers connected to West Valley City's Neighborhood Narcotics Units. The DA's office, West Valley City police, the FBI and other agencies continue to investigate.
"It's far from complete," Gill said.
Gill said parts of the Willard shooting case have been sent back to West Valley City for further investigation. He hopes to have those materials returned within the next two or three weeks, but cautioned it could take his office at least eight weeks to reach a conclusion about whether the Willard shooting was justified.
"There is a lot of stuff to go through," Gill said. "We haven't yet gone through this with the sort of meticulousness we need."
He acknowledged that his office usually turns most officer-involved shootings around within 10 days, but noted there are a plethora of side issues linked to Willard's death.
Gill also pointed out that it took West Valley City investigators nearly five months to complete their initial investigation, not including the requested follow up.
As the investigation progresses, Gill urged the County Council to deny Kennedy's request. He told the council there is a time and place to release records, but not while a "very sensitive investigation" is underway.
"There's probably 110 things more that I have to do with this," he said. "This is still a work in progress."
After listening and discussing the issue for more than an hour, the council voted 6-3 to reconsider issue again at its meeting next week.