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Police release info on officer-involved shooting, woman's death

By Pat Reavy | Posted - Mar 21st, 2013 @ 7:37pm


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WEST VALLEY CITY — Search warrants related to the fatal officer-involved shooting death of Danielle Willard were unsealed Thursday.

The move came as the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office prepares to begin its review of the Nov. 2, 2012, shooting in which two undercover narcotics officers from the West Valley Police Department shot and killed Willard during a drug investigation.

Thursday, West Valley police confirmed that detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon were the two officers involved in the fatal shooting.

But the department maintains that the investigations into the shooting and a decision by District Attorney Sim Gill to which dismiss 19 drug-related cases that were overseen by a West Valley police detective are separate. West Valley police also declined to say whether information gathered from one investigation lead to the other.

Cowley's name, however, appears in many of the charging documents from the 19 dismissed cases. West Valley police have not released the name of the detective being investigated in the dismissed cases and declined to say whether or not it is Cowley.

"The investigation into the Danielle Willard shooting is separate from the incidents referred to by the D.A.'s office involving the 19 cases. We are not prepared to draw any connections or parallels to any of those investigations," said West Valley Police Sgt. Jason Hauer.

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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).

"Detectives Cowley and Salmon observed what they believed to be Ms. Willard attempting to use illegal narcotics," Hauer said. "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. 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 went down as police described them.

"I knew that's what they would try to come up with, because that's what they have alluded to," she said. "I do not believe she was trying to get away from the officers. I've seen too many pictures and I have had too many witnesses that have proven otherwise."


The truth will come out in the end, and I truly believe it. My faith tells me that.

–Melissa Kennedy, Willard's mother


Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos who is representing Willard's family made a second request 10 days ago that West Valley police release all Willard's personal property.

In the letter released Thursday, he accused the police department of "what appears to be a department wide cover-up." Geragos alleged surveillance video that would have captured the shooting, was destroyed in a "mysterious" fire.

Speaking from his office in LA Thursday, Geragos said "this has the earmarks of a police cover-up" and that Thursday's press conference has prompted him to make a trip to Salt Lake City.

"(The police statements are) riddled with falsehoods that are not true. The West Valley City police should be ashamed of themselves," he said.

Because Willard herself had recently been seeking help from police and had been contacting them frequently, Kennedy believes her daughter may have even known the plain-clothed officers.

After the shooting, Willard's car continued to move.

"The two cars were parked parallel to each other. As she reversed out of the stall, it did a circular motion hitting into the other vehicle," Hauer said.

The internal investigation into the shooting is still ongoing after more than four months.

"The investigation into the shooting is nearly completed and will be presented to the D.A.'s office," the sergeant said. "Thorough investigations take as much time as is required to complete every task necessary and to provide a detailed and accurate account as to what occurred during an incident. It is unrealistic to predict how long examinations and other processing of evidence will take. It sometimes takes more time than the public we serve may expect."

The Utah State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police released a statement Thursday, extending their support to Cowley.

"These types of incidents require officers to make split-second decisions to defend themselves and the public at large. This incident was no different. In response to actions by the decedent, these officers feared for their lives and the safety of others. Though we are confident in the decisions and actions of the officers, obviously our hearts go out to the family of Ms. Willard."

Kennedy said she still has faith that the investigation about to be conducted by the district attorney's office will unveil the truth.

"Yes, I believe Sim Gill will come out with the truth," she said. "The truth will come out in the end, and I truly believe it. My faith tells me that."

Contributing: Sam Penrod

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