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WEST VALLEY CITY — Warrants in an officer-involved shooting in West Valley City were unsealed and released Friday — and they seem to yield more questions than answers.
On Nov. 2, 2012, Danielle Willard, 21, was shot and killed by police officers in the parking lot of an West Valley apartment complex.
Three search warrants pertaining to Willard's case were unsealed Friday, detailing West Valley police accounts of what occurred that day
Police had been conducting surveillance on a house, 3644 S. 2200 West, that was involved in an active investigation into illegal narcotics distribution, according to the documents. Police witnessed Willard in an apparent drug transaction with another man, who exited the house and approached Willard.
The search warrants indicate that the man later admitted to police that he sold Willard $40 worth of heroin. Two of the documents, however, offer a different name of the man allegedly involved in the transaction. The warrants identified Brandon Gines, but Erik Ekstrom is also mentioned.
Willard is said by police to have left the house and driven to the nearby Lexington Park Apartments parking lot, where she parked and appeared to be "starting to use" the drugs in her vehicle, the search warrants state.
Police say Willard moved the vehicle to another spot in the same parking lot and reversed out of the spot just as two detectives, Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon, approached her. Cowley was hit in the leg by the vehicle as it was backing out of the parking spot and the warrants indicate that police then fired at Willard as she continued backing up.
Investigators said the vehicle continued in reverse after she was shot in the head, eventually completing a 360-degree turn and bumping into another vehicle.
Willard was found slumped over the passenger seat and officers broke the windows to get inside. The documents state that police then pulled Willard from the passenger side and put her on the ground to begin resuscitation efforts.
Police removed three bullet fragments, a plastic bag containing "brown, tar-like substance," a wallet and purse and their contents, a cellphone, nearly $200 in cash and various drug paraphernalia from Willard's vehicle, the warrants state. Police tried to obtain information about texts or other phone calls from the cellphones, but at least some of those inquiries turned up nothing.
The search warrants indicate a story that is different from what Willard's mother and her attorney believe occurred that day. The attorney said the officers' explanation "has the earmarks of a police coverup."
After reviewing the search warrants and aerial video from KSL's Chopper 5 the day of the shooting, defense attorney Susanne Gustin, who is not involved in this case, said there are more questions than answers.
"Looking at the photos (and) video that KSL has shot, it doesn't really explain the trajectory of the vehicle," she said.
Detectives state they pulled Willard out of the passenger side to render aid. Looking at the scene from above, Gustin said it isn't clear how her car ended up in the position it did, or why detectives didn't get to her from the driver's side.
"If someone is backing out of a stall, how fast are they going?" And did (Willard), was she aware that officers were approaching? Those would be all the questions that I would be asking," Guitin said.
Meanwhile, Cowley and Salmon remain on paid administrative leave as investigations into the shooting continue. Cowley is also the focus of a separate investigation that involves the 19 cases that Gill dismissed. Cowley was the lead investigator in each of those cases and Gill said they were dropped because of credibility issues.