Former WVC detective charged with manslaughter gets court date
Shooting • Shaun Cowley is accused in the shooting death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard.
Published: June 20, 2014 04:06PM
Updated: June 21, 2014 12:02PM
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Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Defense lawyer Lindsay Jarvis, left, represents Shaun Cowley in a pre-hearing conference before the West Valley City Civil Service Commission Tuesday February 18, 2014. Shaun Cowley is fighting to get back on the West Valley City Police force.

An ex-West Valley City police detective who was charged Thursday with fatally shooting a woman last November will make his initial court appearance in two weeks.

Former West Valley City narcotics Detective Shaun Cowley, 33, is charged in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court with second-degree felony manslaughter in the death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard.

He is scheduled to appear in court on July 7, according to court records.

Cowley was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Thursday afternoon, but he soon after posted $10,000 bail and was released, according to the jail’s website.

Cowley and Detective Kevin Salmon were conducting a drug investigation in the area of 2290 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South), when they shot at and killed Willard, 21, as she backed a car from a parking spot Nov. 2, 2012.

Nine months later, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced the shooting was not justified under Utah law, but the manslaughter charge was not filed against Cowley until this week.

Gill said during a Thursday press conference that he opted not to charge Salmon, who also fired his weapon ­­at Willard. Salmon fired his gun four times, according to Gill, but it was one of two shots Cowley fired that struck Willard in the head.

Lindsay Jarvis, Cowley’s attorney, called the decision to prosecute “politically motivated.” She said in a written statement her client learned that charges had been filed against him while watching a live televised news conference where Gill announced the charges. Cowley then voluntarily surrendered to the jail.

“In spite of Sim Gill’s public presentation of manipulated evidence, which was both unethical and prejudicial, we are confident that Detective Cowley will prevail at trial,” Jarvis said. “Sadly, this case has been used as a political platform for Sim Gill to continue his re-election endeavors, as opposed to being analyzed fairly and impartially.”

Gill, during his news conference on Thursday morning, focused on how evidence showed Cowley was standing to the side of Willard’s Subaru, and not in the path of it as he claimed, when he fired the first shot, striking Willard in the head. Cowley has claimed the car’s rear bumper struck his right leg.

“The evidence supports that [Cowley’s] life was not in danger,” Gill said.

Cowley was fired from his job — not for the shooting, but for mishandling evidence found in his car after the shooting. He has been fighting his termination and has an appeal hearing scheduled for Aug. 25 before the city’s civil service commission.

Salmon has been on paid leave pending the decision on criminal charges.

West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo said during a Thursday afternoon news conference that the city is prepared to move forward with the appeal process for Cowley.

As for Salmon, Russo said now that the district attorney has declined to file charges, the department’s investigation could be completed within 30 days.

If convicted as charged, Cowley could be sent to prison for up to 15 years.

Willard’s mother, Melissa Kennedy, said that she would have “preferred murder” charges against the former detective, but said she was pleased with Gill’s decision.

“Cowley’s the one that murdered her,” Kennedy said. “He’s the one that shot the gun. He’s the one that raised the level of force.”

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: jm_miller