West Valley City • A day after prosecutors announced they were dismissing 19 cases involving a West Valley City police detective, the previously closemouthed police department released new details Thursday about the Nov. 2 officer-involved shooting death of Danielle Willard.
Police said Willard was shot after allegedly backing her car into one of two officers investigating a purported drug deal that had just taken place.
Plainclothes detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon both opened fire after approaching the 21-year-old woman, who appeared to be in the process of using drugs, according to a news release from Sgt. Jason Hauer.
Willard’s mother, Melissa Kennedy, said Thursday that Cowley is the officer whose "problems" prompted Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill to move to dismiss the 19 mostly drug-related cases in which Cowley was the lead detective. Gill, who did not identify Cowley as the officer in question, cited a lack of "sufficient credible evidence with which to obtain a conviction."
Hauer would not confirm that Cowley — an eight-year veteran who typically investigates drug cases — is the officer responsible for the cases being dismissed, adding: "The cases that the DA’s office is referencing are all separate cases from the officer-involved shooting."
On Wednesday, in response to a news organization publicizing Cowley’s name, the Utah Fraternal Order of Police released a statement expressing confidence that Cowley will be exonerated.
"We find it unfortunate that the officer was named and the cases were dismissed before the investigation was completed," the police union wrote in the statement. "A more proper course is to await a full and final presentation of the facts and to reserve judgment about this officer until then."
On Thursday, the union called for Gill to recuse himself from reviewing the shooting of Willard, as well from the 19 cases in question, and instead ask a DA from an adjoining county to investigate. The organization claimed Gill was "using the high-profile nature of the officer-involved shooting … to raise spurious unrelated allegations concerning actions of the West Valley City Narcotics Unit."
Bret Rawson, FOP general counsel, said "there is no relationship between the events but the fact that Mr. Gill is seeking to co-join the two can only be explained by political considerations. The timing is inappropriate. The action is inappropriate. The motivation is suspect."
Gill responded Thursday that his office will continue to investigate the shooting and the questioned narcotics cases.
"I have a job to do," Gill said. "I got elected to do my job."
Gill also stressed that he has never publicly suggested that the shooting and the drug cases are related. He emphasized that the probe that led to the dismissal of the 19 cases was brought to his office by West Valley City police for investigation.
"That is what we do," Gill said about the investigation. "We have an ethical and legal duty to not turn a blind eye to it."
Willard was shot after officers Cowley and Salmon observed what they believed was a drug transaction between Willard and a man who lived at the Lexington Park Apartments, 2292 Lexington Park Drive (3710 South), according to Hauer.
After the alleged drug deal, Willard pulled her car into a vacant parking stall. Hauer said Willard’s vehicle, a silver Subaru Forester, faced north into the parking stall, and was positioned parallel to another vehicle facing south.
The two detectives then observed what they believed to be Willard attempting to use illegal narcotics, police said in a news release. The officers began to approach on foot to make contact with Willard, who remained inside her vehicle. Salmon approached from the front and Cowley from the rear.
"When the detectives reached the vehicle and identified themselves as police officers, Ms. Willard put the vehicle in reverse and backed out of the parking stall," the release said.
"As this was occurring, Detective Cowley was struck by the vehicle and both Detective Cowley and Salmon fired their service weapons. Ms. Willard was struck and killed as a result of the gunfire."
According to Hauer, Willard’s vehicle continued moving after the shots were fired. The news release said it made a complete circle, hitting the adjacent vehicle and pushing it into a perpendicular position before coming to a stop.
Hauer said he did not have information about the other vehicle, which video footage shows was a red SUV.
According to Willard’s mother, Willard was unarmed and was struck twice in the head by bullets. Cowley suffered minor injuries to his leg.Next Page >
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