In November of 2012, Utah woman Danielle Willard was shot and killed by two police detectives during an undercover drug operation.
But after nine months of investigation, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that the officer’s use of deadly force was not justified, and that a criminal investigation will now be opened up against the West Valley policemen.
In November, detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon reported that after stopping Willard for a drug stop, she backed her car into Salmon in an attempt to flee the scene. Cowley claimed that after seeing the car back into Salmon, he fired shots into the woman’s car. Six shots were fired at Willard that day, with one grazing her chin and another striking her head, ultimately killing her.
District Attorney Gill and investigators now dispute the detective’s claim. Speaking at a press conference, Gill said that forensic evidence indicates Willard did not back into Salmon. Rather, it indicates that she backed up next to him instead. At the time of the incident, Cowley said he saw the car hit Salmon, but he has since retracted this claim.
Since Willard did not back her car into Salmon, Gill is ruling that the officer’s use of deadly force was not justified. When asked why the detectives lied on the initial police report, Gill stopped short of saying the men were lying.
"I’m not going to speculate to what their motivation was,” he said. “The story that was being presented to us was not corroborated…Now we start to look at this as a criminal prosecution matter and start to prepare our case.”
The shooting of Willard is not the only controversial issue from the arrest. During their investigation, West Valley Police found evidence from a separate drug investigation in Cowley’s vehicle that was not supposed to be there. The finding led to a much larger investigation of the West Valley Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.
The investigation found six troubling problems within the Narcotics Unit. Drugs and money from seizures were missing, and officers were keeping “souvenirs” from drug raids. GPS trackers were being used on suspects without search warrants. Informants were being used illegally, and evidence wasn't being handled according to protocol. Finally, officers were found taking money and other valuable items from seized vehicles.