SALT LAKE CITY — Calling the timing of the district attorney's dismissal of 19 drug cases suspicious, the Fraternal Order of Police are calling for the DA's recusal from the case of an officer-involved shooting that left a woman dead.
The Utah State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police released a statement Thursday that asked for the recuse of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on the review of an officer-involved shooting that left Danielle Willard, 21, dead. Detective Shaun Cowley was involved in both the Willard case and some of the cases dismissed Wednesday.
"It appears that Mr. Gill is trying this matter in the press, without a full hearing. We understand that Mr. Gill has invited TV cameras to film select pleadings, showing the public some of the evidence, but keeping other evidence out of the public eye, which would have otherwise given a more complete picture of events," wrote FOP General Counsel member Bret Rawson. "Mr. Gill is using the high-profile nature of the officer-involved shooting involving Ms. Willard to raise spurious unrelated allegations concerning actions of the West Valley City Narcotics Unit."
The timing of the DA's office dismissing the cases and unsealing the search warrants in the Willard case concerns the FOP, Rawson said.
There is no relationship between the events but the fact that Mr. Gill is seeking to co-join the two can only be explained by political considerations. The timing is inappropriate. The action is inappropriate. The motivation is suspect.
–Bret Rawson, Fraternal Order of Police
"There is no relationship between the events but the fact that Mr. Gill is seeking to co-join the two can only be explained by political considerations. The timing is inappropriate. The action is inappropriate. The motivation is suspect."
In response, Gill said the cases were brought to his attention by the Salt Lake City Police Department a week and a half ago. When Gill determined the evidence was no longer credible, he said he was obligated to dismiss them to prevent the cases from proceeding.
"If you happen to be a person on a case that I cannot successfully prosecute the timing of the case is very important to you. You would not want me to delay a single day," Gill said.
Both Gill and the West Valley Police Department have said that the 19 cases were separate from the Willard case, though Cowley worked on the investigations.
"We maintain that the investigation into the shooting is separate from the 19 cases related to the district attorney's motion to dismiss," said Sgt. Jason Hauer of the West Valley Police Department.
Gill, however, said the evidence in each of the cases was compromised.
"We believe this has impacted the credibility of the case such that we do not have a reasonable likelihood of success at trial," Gill said.
Each of the 19 cases involved drug-related crimes — most commonly drug possession with intent to distribute — that occurred between 2010 and 2012.
Among the 19 cases, three men stood out due to their extensive criminal backgrounds.
Cody Loren Butts has served time for theft, among other things, and has an extensive criminal history mostly involving drug offenses.
Records show Ignacio Guadarrama was deported in 2012, but returned to Utah and was arrested again in January. He is currently in custody.
James Wilkes' criminal history includes drug distribution and possession. At least one case against him is currently pending.
None of the 19 people involved were charged for violent crimes.
Contributing: Devon Dolan