West Valley detective in fatal shooting also focus of credibility investigation

Police union wants D.A. to recuse himself for 'inappropriate' actions

Published: Thursday, March 21 2013 11:10 a.m. MDT

Melissa Kennedy talks about her daughter, Danielle Misha Willard, at a memorial created in her honor in West Valley on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. On Friday, Willard, 21, was shot and killed by undercover West Valley police officers in the parking lot of the Lexington Park Apartments, 2293 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South). An officer also suffered minor injuries during the encounter.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — West Valley police broke their nearly 20-week silence Thursday regarding the fatal officer-involved shooting of Danielle Willard.

But their comments sparked frustration and anger from Willard's mother and her high-profile attorney, and leave many unanswered questions about whether information collected from the shooting investigation led to the dismissal of 19 criminal cases by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.

The lead investigator in those 19 dismissed cases appears to be one of the officers who shot and killed Willard. The charges were dropped because of credibility questions involving that investigator.

West Valley police detective Shaun Cowley is the focus of both investigations, according to the Utah State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. The group expressed anger Thursday at District Attorney Sim Gill for letting "the cat out of the bag." The union called Gill's timing "inappropriate" and asked him to recuse himself from both the Willard shooting investigation and the investigation involving the 19 cases.

The uproar over the cases comes as the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office is preparing to begin its review of the Nov. 2, 2012, shooting in which two West Valley undercover narcotics officers shot and killed Willard, 21, during a drug investigation. A two-day meeting between the district attorney and West Valley police was scheduled for March 28-29.

Search warrants related to the fatal officer-involved shooting death of Willard were scheduled to be unsealed Thursday in 3rd District Court, but the warrants weren't available and are expected to be released on Friday. In anticipation of their release, West Valley police on Thursday confirmed that detectives Cowley and Kevin Salmon were the two officers involved in the fatal shooting.

But the department maintains that the shooting and Gill's decision to dismiss the 19 West Valley police cases — most of them drug-related — are separate investigations. West Valley also declined to say whether information gathered from one case led to the other.

"We are not prepared to draw any connections or parallels to any of those investigations," said West Valley Police Sgt. Jason Hauer.

Gill and West Valley police declined to verify whether Cowley is the detective with alleged credibility issues. Cowley's name, however, appears in most of the charging documents from the 19 dismissed cases. Other than Cowley, however, the cases don't appear to have anything to do with the shooting.

The shooting

On Nov. 2, Cowley and Salmon were conducting a drug investigation at 3644 S. 2200 West. The officers witnessed what they believed to be a drug deal between David Gines and Willard, who was driving a Subaru Forester, said Hauer.

Willard then drove into the parking lot of the Lexington Park Apartments, 2293 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South). The two detectives believed they saw Willard trying to use drugs.

"Detective Salmon approached the vehicle from the front and detective Cowley approached from the rear of the vehicle. 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," Hauer said. "As this was occurring, detective Cowley was struck by the vehicle and both detectives Cowley and Salmon fired their service weapons. Ms. Willard was struck and killed as a result of the gunfire."

Cowley was treated at a local hospital for a minor leg injury.

Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, said Thursday from her home in Vancouver, Wash., that she does not believe the events of that day occurred as police described them.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere