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((Courtesy photo) ) Danielle Willard, 21, was shot and killed Nov. 2, 2012, by West Valley City Police detectives during a drug investigation at an apartment complex.
Calls mount for charging decision in Danielle Willard shooting
Courts » Despite the unjustified-shooting ruling, the D.A. has had to navigate entanglements.
First Published Mar 30 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 30 2014 06:14 pm

It’s been nearly 16 months since West Valley City police officers shot and killed Danielle Willard during a drug investigation. At this point, there may be one thing people on all sides agree upon.

They would like a decision about whether Officers Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon will face criminal charges.

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Cowley and Salmon want a decision. Willard’s mother wants a decision. The Fraternal Order of Police wants a decision.

West Valley City government — which is still paying Salmon while the decision is pending — would like a decision.

Even the guy who will make the decision, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, wants a decision. "Nobody can appreciate the urgency to resolve this matter more than me," Gill said in a recent interview.

Gill has already deemed the shooting not justifiable under Utah law. He said there are "legal issues" delaying a decision about criminal charges, but those could be resolved by mid-April.

Gill acknowledged the legal issues arose in December or January. He declined to specify if those issues revolve around attempts to convene a grand jury to review the shooting, as reported in January by City Weekly. The newspaper said a panel of judges rebuffed Gill, at least in part because they viewed the case as political and not appropriate for a grand jury.

Earlier this year, Gill lobbied the Legislature to make it easier to convene a grand jury in public corruption cases. No changes passed.

Asking a grand jury to review the case would largely remove Gill from the decision about whether to charge Cowley and Salmon. But Gill could still opt to charge them the same way nearly all other criminal cases in Utah are filed — by a prosecutor deciding there’s enough evidence and submitting paperwork to a courthouse. Gill acknowledged there’s no legal issue preventing him from doing that.

"We’re hoping to resolve these issues by mid-April and that will give us some very clear direction where to go," Gill said.

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The delays are increasing criticism of Gill.

Melissa Kennedy, Willard’s mother, said Friday she is "literally, completely stressed all the time trying to figure out what is really going on." She said she last met with Gill in November and was told a decision was on the way.

"When he tells us he’s going to give us an answer at the end of December and it’s April now, you have to wonder what’s going on," Kennedy said.

Cowley’s attorney, Lindsay Jarvis, doesn’t believe her client committed a crime when he shot Willard, 21, on Nov. 2, 2012, but she wants a conclusion one way or the other. The delays are causing additional hardships for Cowley, she said, who next month will go to West Valley City’s Civil Service Commission and ask for his job back.

"This is something your family has to deal with, that your children have to deal with," Jarvis said of the delay. "Every time your name comes up, people know who you are."

Jarvis sees no reason for the delay.

"The reality is the evidence isn’t changing," Jarvis said. "What Gill received in March [2013] is the information he has today."

Shima Baradaran, an associate professor of law at the University of Utah, said a delay in deciding whether to charge a crime is not necessarily bad. Some people don’t understand that a prosecutor’s role is not always to bring charges as soon as the law allows. A prosecutor, she said in an email to The Tribune, must use his or her discretion to best serve the public.

"A delay in making a charging decision is not a miscarriage of justice," Baradaran wrote. "A decision to charge someone with a crime should be made very thoughtfully and after full investigation."

But not everyone sees the delay as Gill being judicious. Earlier this month, Gill launched his re-election campaign on the Democratic ticket.

Ian Adams, the spokesman for the Utah chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police believes Gill is using the Willard shooting to help his campaign.

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