Melissa Kennedy wants to see the officers who shot and killed her daughter charged with crimes — along with the rest of their unit.
“I want [the district attorney] to file charges against all of them,” Kennedy said at a rally Saturday evening to remember her daughter, Danielle Willard. About 35 people who turned out to the rally, outside West Valley City Hall, were also calling for a change in police tactics, in light of other Utahns shot and killed in the past few years.
“This isn’t just about Danielle. This is much bigger than just one child,” Kennedy said.
A year ago Saturday, West Valley City police detectives Kevin Salmon and Shaun Cowley shot at Willard during a drug bust. The investigation into the shooting is ongoing, though Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determined the two officers were not justified in using deadly force against the 21-year-old. Gill has not determined whether the pair will face criminal charges for their actions.
Gill also has not pressed any charges against the other members of the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which faced intense scrutiny after the shooting and after allegations of mishandling evidence, misconduct and other corruption charges surfaced.
An internal affairs investigation found the officers had improperly taken change from suspects and used it to buy the unit items, like food and water. It also found one officer had used a GPS device without a warrant. The same investigation found the most serious corruption charges were unwarranted.
But it’s been the Willard shooting that has focused new attention on use of force by police. Scott Simons shouted into a bullhorn as cars drove past the rally, decrying the mentality that officers are “judge, jury and executioner.”
His daughter, Kelly Fay Simons, 38, was killed in January by police, who suspected her of committing a series of armed robberies in the Salt Lake Valley.
Police say Kelly Simons exchanged gunfire with a Murray officer following a armed robbery. Days later, on Jan. 11, she attempted to run down a Joint Criminal Apprehension Team officer with her pickup truck, prompting an officer to shoot her to death.
In contrast, her alleged cohort Sandra Chotia-Thompson was arrested the same night after Salt Lake City police negotiated with her to turn herself in.
“[Salt Lake City] Police Chief Chris Burbank told me that we need to concentrate on police tactics and level of force,” Scott Simons said, pointing out how Burbank pulled his department out of JCAT because its tactics were too aggressive. Simons wants to see police training reformed in a way that dials back the aggression and the lack of hesitation to pull a trigger.
The same goes for Patricia Crockett, whose friend Todd Blair, 30, was shot and killed on Sept. 16, 2010, by the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force. The force was serving a “no knock” search warrant on a Roy home, shouting “police” and “search warrant” several times. Blair appeared in the living room with a golf club raised above his head, advancing toward the officers in an “aggressive manner,” when an officer shot him, said Weber County Attorney Dee Smith in a statement. Smith ruled the shooting was justified.
“It saddens me to this day. It was uncalled for,” Crockett said. She wants to see an end to “no knock” warrants.
“This has got to stop,” she said.
Crockett, too, wants to see charges filed against Cowley and Salmon for Willard’s death.
Cowley has since been fired for unrelated reasons, though he is appealing that decision. Salmon remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of Gill’s investigation.
Lindsay Jarvis, Cowley’s attorney, claims the detective’s actions weren’t enough to warrant termination and that he should get his job back. In an appeal, Jarvis claims the department violated her client’s rights, consistently employed unequal discipline across the department and used investigators that had blatant conflicts of interest against her client.
While seven of the nine officers who worked with Cowley in the narcotics unit were found to have engaged in wrongdoing, she said nobody else was fired. She said Lt. John Coyle, who is also appealing his disciplinary action, received the most serious punishment of the bunch — a demotion.
West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo stands by the decision to fire Cowley for mishandling evidence and for unaccounted for money. He emphasized Cowley was fired for his own actions, not those of his supervisors or colleagues.
Russo said the department will be studying Jarvis’ allegations to determine what is real and what is not and whether accountability has been established for the alleged actions. He said some of the allegations Jarvis has leveled happened years ago. Others will be difficult to verify.
Jarvis claims she can back up all the allegations through police reports, recordings and testimony.
Ultimately, state and federal prosecutors dismissed more than 100 criminal cases linked to undisclosed officers in the narcotics unit.