WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – Nearly five months after the officer-involved shooting death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard, West Valley City police are finally releasing details about the case.
After Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill dropped nineteen drug cases involving West Valley City Police Det. Shaun Cowley because of lack of substantial evidence, Cowley was linked to the Nov. 2 shooting of Danielle Willard.
In a news conference on Thursday morning, West Valley City Police officials opened up about the case for the first time.
Police say that on Nov. 2, 2012, Cowley and West Valley City Det. Kevin Salmon, both narcotics officers, were at the Lexington Park apartments for a drug raid.
They reportedly saw Willard doing drugs in the parking lot of the apartment complex and approached her while she was sitting in her Subaru.
West Valley City Police Sgt. Jason Hauer said in Thursday’s press conference that at that point, Willard put her vehicle in reverse and backed out of her parking stall, allegedly hitting Cowley by the vehicle.
“As this was occurring, Detective Cowley was struck by the vehicle and both Detectives Cowley and Salmon fired their weapons,” Hauer said.
The detectives opened fire, fatally shooting Willard.
But Danielle Willard’s mother Melissa Kennedy doesn’t buy the police explanation of the incident.
“I think they’re digging their own grave,” Kennedy said.
Police say Willard’s car was parked next to a red SUV and as she reversed out of the stall, the vehicle went into a circular motion, forcing the SUV to be perpendicular behind it. Kennedy says that can’t be the case.
“There’s no way this could be true. They’re covering up, there’s too many things disappearing,” Kennedy said.
One of those things, Kennedy’s lawyer Mark Geragos says, is surveillance video that would have shown the incident. That surveillance footage was destroyed in what Geragos, in a letter to the West Valley City Police Dept., calls a “mysterious” fire.
“A ‘mysterious’ fire that erupted destroying the surveillance video which would have otherwise captured the incident leading to Ms. Willard’s death,” the letter says.
Kennedy believes the camera was actually at the apartment building across the street and was destroyed in a carport fire in December.
“I really think the fire of the cars was a deterrent so they could catch the other stuff on fire,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure that tape was intentionally caught on fire.”
Geragos reiterated that belief in the letter, accusing West Valley City police of “a department wide cover-up.”
Hauer said in a press conference on Thursday that he didn’t have information regarding that tape and whether it was destroyed in the carport fire.
A meeting between West Valley City Police official and District Attorney Sim Gill regarding the West Valley City investigation into the Willard case is scheduled for the end of next week.
The Utah Fraternal Order of Police has called for Gill to recuse himself in the case because they claim he’s trying the case in the press. They want a district attorney from a neighboring county to take over the case. Gill says he has absolutely no intention of recusing himself.