West Valley City settles lawsuit with police officer who shot Danielle Willard, but appeal is planned

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Former West Valley City police officer Shaun Cowley and his attorney, Lindsay Jarvis, answer questions about settlement with West Valley City on Cowley's back pay during a news conference in Sandy, Monday, June 8, 2015.

West Valley City and former police officer Shaun Cowley have settled the last claim in his lawsuit against the municipality, though Cowley still plans to file an appeal to a higher court.

Cowley, who almost 5½ years ago fired the bullet that killed suspect Danielle Willard, and the city on Tuesday filed a joint motion saying an agreement had been reached on the final claim — that West Valley City violated Cowley’s Fourth Amendment rights by searching his locker.

Both sides asked for federal Judge Bruce Jenkins to dismiss the claim.

But Cowley attorney Tyler Ayres on Tuesday said Cowley will appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on claims that Jenkins had earlier dismissed —including that Cowley was unable to clear his name in an employment hearing, that he was the subject of malicious prosecution and that his due process rights were violated because of a hostile work environment.

“We’re hopeful that the 10th Circuit will see it differenty than Judge Jenkins did,” Ayres said.

Danielle Willard, 21, was shot and killed by West Valley City Police detectives during an investigation at an apartment complex in November 2012. Police have released few details about what led to the shooting. A native of Vancouver, Wash., Willard came to live in Murray in April, when she started living in a drug rehabilitation center.

Ayres declined to disclose the terms of the settlement for the locker search. A spokeswoman for West Valley City did not return a message inquiring about the settlement.

Cowley’s lawsuit has been part of a long list of legal actions that followed Willard’s death on Nov. 2, 2012. Cowley and his partner on the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, Kevin Salmon, suspected Willard of buying drugs and tried to stop her from driving away in her car.

As Willard, 21, backed her Subaru Forester out of the parking spot, Cowley, he would say later, feared she was trying to run over him. Both he and Salmon fired their weapons. A Cowley bullet struck Willard’s head; Salmon’s grazed her chin.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill deemed the shooting not justified. He charged Cowley with manslaughter, but a state court judge dismissed the charge after an October 2014 preliminary hearing, saying there wasn’t enough evidence.

West Valley City fired Cowley in October 2013, but he appealed his termination and won his job back after the city’s Civil Service Commission ruled in May 2014 that while he violated police policies, his termination was unwarranted.

Cowley returned to work in June 2015, but quit three days later, claiming in his February 2016 lawsuit against the city that he “faced a hostile work environment.”

Cowley also alleged he was made a scapegoat for larger problems with the police department’s narcotics squad, which was disbanded when an investigation — sparked by Willard’s death — found officers kept souvenirs from drug busts and mishandled evidence.

About 125 criminal cases were dismissed as a result of problems with the narcotics squad. In September 2017, West Valley City paid a total of $650,000 to settle two lawsuits from plaintiffs who said narcotics officers violated their rights in separate episodes in 2012.

Willard’s estate sued the city and settled her case in 2015 for $1.425 million.