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West Valley City cops remain mum on fatal shooting

Published November 10, 2012 11:19 am

West Valley City • A week after woman was killed, no new information has been released.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Danielle Willard's mother returned home to Washington state to bury her daughter Saturday, still wondering why the 21-year-old was shot and killed a week ago by police in West Valley City.

At least one of two plainclothes detectives shot at Willard in the middle of the afternoon on Nov. 2 during an unspecified investigation at the Lexington Park Apartments, 2292 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South). One officer was injured, but not by gunfire.

That's all the West Valley police department has said about the fatal shooting.

Accounts from neighbors who witnessed portions of the shooting episode, which ended with Willard lying on the ground outside her car, only deepen the mystery.

Police said again Friday that they are not yet releasing any new information about the shooting because they are still investigating.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office expects to review the West Valley City investigation, but offered no details.

"I have to trust that if the agency is going to take on those investigative responsibilities that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing diligently," Gill said when asked about the little information released so far. "I'm just not in a position to second-guess anything [in regards to] what they are doing or what they are not doing."

Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, said West Valley detectives have told her that her daughter was not armed when she was shot, and that they didn't find a weapon in her car. Kennedy, who saw her daughter's body before it was cremated, said she saw two wounds: one on Willard's chin and another in the crown of her head. That was the shot that killed her, Kennedy said.

Stewart Gollan, a civil liberties attorney in Salt Lake City, said he's worked on many cases dealing with use of force by police. He said that the line between necessary force and excessive force usually depends on two questions: Did the officer reasonably believe use of force was necessary to protect himself or herself, or others? And was the force appropriate given the threat?

"It's difficult for me to comment without having any sort of concrete facts," Gollan said Friday, adding that if Kennedy's assertion that her daughter wasn't armed is true, it could be a red flag.

"It certainly raises concerns if the police use deadly force against an unarmed suspect," he said.

Several witnesses located by The Tribune said they focused events in the parking lot only after hearing gunshots.

Neighbor LeAnn McElvain said she was standing in the front lawn of her apartment building, across the street and a few yards north of the Lexington Park building, at the time of the shooting. McElvain said she saw Willard's car pull into the lot and heard shots a few minutes later. She also said she saw a man run from the scene.

When she looked across the street, she could see Willard's body on the ground next to the car. She was later questioned by police, but said she is still perplexed about what led to the shooting. McElvain said she's worried that Willard, who did not live at the Lexington Park apartments, may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have been anyone, she said.

Two LDS missionaries who live above McElvain also were across the street. One of the missionaries, Daniel Valverde, said they were about a block away from the scene when they heard gunshots. They walked toward the sound and could see a body lying on the ground and a man kneeling next to the body, Valverde said.

"My mind was just blank because this was the first time I'd seen this happen," he said.

At least one resident of the Lexington Park apartments said he was in his kitchen and looked out the window when he heard shots. But he declined to be interviewed.

Police have confirmed they were conducting an investigation at the time of the shooting, but the details of that investigation have not been released.Willard, a native of Vancouver, Wash., moved to Utah in April to start treatment at a drug rehabilitation facility in Murray. After three months in the program, she got an apartment in Murray that she shared with roommate Krystal Harrison.

Harrison said that in the last couple of weeks, Willard had relapsed and was hanging out with new people. Although Harrison hadn't seen much of Willard, she knew the woman was supposed to put down money for a lease on a new apartment. Kennedy said her daughter told her the same thing the day before she died.

According to Harrison, Willard told her bosses at a Murray gas station that she was going to West Valley City to put money down on the lease. But Willard's mother said she was told by Lexington Park officials that she never applied to live at that complex. Employees for Lexington Park declined to comment directly.

kbennion@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KimballBennion