Legal expert discusses impact of DA’s decision on Willard shooting

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SALT LAKE CITY – A day after the Salt Lake County District Attorney ruled the fatal shooting of Danielle Willard by two West Valley City police detectives was not justified, legal experts weighed in on the decision.

Danielle Willard was shot and killed last November at the Lexington Park Apartments, 2200 West 3700 South, in West Valley City.

Defense attorney Brett Tolman said it’s both significant and rare when forensic evidence doesn’t back up a police officer’s story, but that’s exactly what the DA determined in the case. The two WVC PD detectives said they feared for their lives when Willard tried to leave the parking lot.

"What we don't typically see, the officer's statements not being corroborated and from what it appears in the investigation, you have some very significant differences in terms of the trajectory of the bullet, the angles with which the shooting occurred, where the officers stated they were versus where the forensics seems to suggest they were,” Tolman said.

The DA’s decision came after a nine-month investigation by both police and the District Attorney’s office. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Thursday the evidence regarding bullet trajectories does not corroborate the officer’s story. He also said the findings show Willard most likely drove around the detective, rather than at him.

Tolman said the ruling may lead to more legal action.

"The findings that the District Attorneys have reached gives enormous weight to the argument that this could be a wrongful death or there could have been inappropriate action,” he said. “Anytime you have a finding that the officers' version of events is not corroborated by the evidence, that has the potential to push a civil case across the finish line."

The officers involved in the shooting remain on paid administrative leave. The DA must still determine if they will face criminal charges.

Related stories:

Family, attorneys react after DA determines Willard shooting not justified

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