Wife defends West Valley City detective at downtown rally
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The wife of a West Valley City detective involved in the shooting death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard issued a loud, verbal defense of her husband Wednesday evening during a rally and protest outside the Salt Lake City-County Building.
Trista Salmon was joined by about 50 others clad in blue to defend police officers and dispute Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's decision that Kevin Salmon and Shaun Cowley were not justified in the shooting and killing of Willard.
She stood her ground before a group of about 10 Gill supporters, who dressed in red to represent the blood of victims, in what began as a peaceful rally but escalated into a heated verbal exchange between the two groups.
"I just wish we could do this peacefully," Trista Salmon said after walking away from counter-protesters with tears in her eyes. "We're here to show support for the cops. I'm just here to show support for my husband."
Salmon said she feels like she's been living in a nightmare since the shooting nine months ago.
"The findings of unjustified were not right, and we're not going to back down. We're going to fight," she said. "I am worried about a cop going out on a call and being shot, being killed, being run over by a car."
Salmon said the shooting was not something her husband anticipated doing that day.
"He put on his gun and badge and went to work," she said.
Men, women and children supporting police at the rally held signs that said, "Shoot! Or don't shoot? Hold on, let me call Sim" and "Sim, faced with death and a split-second decision to decide, what do you do?" Another featured a police mug shot of Willard that said, "This is not Danielle's high school graduation picture. What an angel, huh?"
Gill supporters held signs that said, "Sim Gill Hero," "Braveheart Sim Gill," "Drug test the police" and "Justice for Danielle."
The only thing that stood between the groups was a fake coffin on a table covered in an American flag, a police hat and belt. Officer Salmon's father said he had the coffin made for the rally as an omen.
"It represents an officer who hesitated to do his job because of a decision, an arbitrary opinion on the part of the district attorney," Bill Salmon said. "And that's what happens. It's what's going to happen in the future if this kind of thing continues."
Gill supporter Scott Simons said he intercepted an email Wednesday morning about the rally to "besmirch Sim Gill's name and his integrity" and said he wasn't going to stand for it.
Simons, whose daughter, Kelly, was shot and killed by South Salt Lake's Joint Criminal Apprehension Team in January, said he hopes those at the rally don't think their position is the "status quo".
"I want them to know there's a lot of people who have standing in this community who totally disagree," he said. "Right now they think they're normal, and I don't think they're normal."
Simons called the rally members "unreasonable" for making an issue of one ruling.
Justin Watt, who attended the pro-police rally, said he believes his personal safety is on the line.
"Ultimately, Sim Gill is making this town a much more dangerous place because he just declared it open season on police officers and innocent civilians," Watt said. "If the police can't stand between us and the dangers of this community, things are about to get much worse."
Brent Jex, president of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, said he believes Cowley and Salmon were justified in fatally shooting Willard that November day.
“(Sim Gill) just seems to have a bone to pick with West Valley,” he said.
Jex said now there is a problem with officers who are afraid to take action.
“The use of force and sometimes the use of deadly force is an option and a needed option," he said. "The officers are hesitant because they’re worried what Sim Gill is going to do to them. And that’s dangerous.”
Jex said Gill's decision has “wrecked the lives of these two officers.” He said if the district attorney found that the shooting was not justified, that decision should have been accompanied by charges against the officers.
“In this shooting case, I believe the district attorney is ignoring the evidence,” he said.
When asked Wednesday to comment on the rally, Gill said everyone is entitled to their opinion but that he made a very thorough decision.
"The decision we made and we had to review was not an easy decision," he said. "We feel very comfortable with the conclusion we've reached."
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