The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office said Thursday that it has put together a panel of officers to prepare a criminal case for screening the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard.
District Attorney Sim Gill said an interagency team comprised of two homicide detectives each from Unified, Salt Lake City and West Valley City police departments have been tasked with putting together a criminal screening packet to determine whether West Valley City detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon should face any charges in the fatal officer-involved shooting of Willard that occurred more than a year ago.
Gill already has deemed the shooting "unjustified," but he has not yet determined whether it was criminal in nature.
Cowley, who fired the fatal shot, was fired from the department in September on unrelated allegations of evidence mishandling and misappropriation of money. He's appealing his termination. Salmon remains on paid leave pending the outcome of the District Attorney's probe.
Cowley's attorney Lindsay Jarvis said no one has communicated with her client since December.
Jarvis said cases like this shouldn't take a year to investigate unless investigators or individuals have an agenda and this case, with the media attention and public scrutiny, there is definitely an agenda, she said.
"Whether Sim Gill brings charges or not, all of the parties involved, including Shaun Cowley, Kevin Salmon, and the family of Danielle Willard deserve closure," Jarvis said. "If the evidence supports the misuse of deadly force, the state should file charges against the officer(s). Accordingly, after charges are filed, the State should prevail at trial. However, after reviewing the evidence in this matter, I can assure that won't happen."
Cowley and Salmon were also members of the West Valley City Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which faced intense scrutiny following Willard's death on allegations of mishandling evidence and illegally using GPS tracking devices. The unit was disbanded late last year.
"I'm very comfortable with the progress that is being made, and it's moving in the right direction," Gill said of the Willard probe.
He said the investigation has taken so long because it took more than six months to be turned over to the District Attorney's Office for review and involved about 3,800 pages that needed to be looked at.
"Meanwhile, as the delay continues, Officer Salmon remains on paid administrative leave through the West Valley City Police Department, and the family of Danielle Willard continues to wait, hoping someone other than Danielle will be held accountable for her death," Jarvis said. "All the way around, it's a tragic situation with life-altering consequencesâ¦"
Gill said the two West Valley City homicide investigators are the two that put together the initial information into Willard's shooting, which is why they're involved in the putting together a criminal case that will be screened before a panel of Salt Lake County prosecutors.
Gill said he hopes the decision about criminal charges will be made by the end of the year.
Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, said she's "very happy" with the panel approach.
"I think that's incredibly good that we don't have people investigating their own," she said. "The reason I think it's going to be a lot more fair is the fact that [Gill] has the panel of different people â¦ and nobody that is directly involved with the issue or directly involved with the person [involved]."
Ultimately though, Kennedy wants both Cowley and Salmon to face a jury.
"I want them to have their day in court," she said. "If it turns out they're not guilty, I might not like it, but I'll have to live with it."