WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — One of the West Valley City police officers who shot and killed 21-year-old Danielle Willard during a drug investigation last year has been terminated.
According to Chief Lee Russo, the shooting was the impetus for a lengthy investigation into the now disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, which prompted the termination of Det. Shaun Cowley.
“It was information that came to light during that officer involved shooting that we had to investigate and found these violations,” Russo said.
Cowley and his fellow WVCPD officer Kevin Salmon shot and killed Willard during an investigation on November 2. The two were placed on administrative leave following the incident. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office ruled the shooting unjustified in August.
In the months since, Russo said they have uncovered much more than what happened on the night Willard died. Allegations of corruption within the narcotics unit led to an internal investigation that found some of its members were mishandling and misplacing evidence in certain cases.
“Information wasn’t being documented appropriately, property wasn’t being handled appropriately,” Russo said.
Cowley has been accused of having a hand in the problems, which Russo stated was the basis for his termination.
“The cases and nature of the violations that he was involved in were so egregious the termination decision was, we felt, the most appropriate action here,” he said.
An internal audit found drugs and money from certain cases were missing, and the department has yet to locate some of it.
“Some has been accounted for,” Russo said, “But in other cases, some has been unaccounted for at this moment.
In a statement, Cowley’s attorney called the termination a “façade,” intended to convince the public that her client was the root of the department’s problem.
“Rather than simply admitting and addressing issues related to poor police administration, the Department has chosen to identify Detective Cowley –an officer- as its scapegoat,” said Cowley’s attorney, Lindsay Jarvis.
Jarvis plans to appeal the decision. Her full statement can be read here: Cowley Termination Response
West Valley City police also announced Thursday that three of its officers from the disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit have been reinstated. Detectives Rafael Frausto, Chris Smith and Barbara Lund have been allowed to return to work.
“We’re talking about one officer out of 189 officers that made mistakes,” Russo said. “I’m confident that the people we have returned to the street the officers are deserving so of being on the road, of being police officers for this city.”
Disciplinary actions were also issued to Lt. John Coyle, Sgt. Michael Johnson and Det. Ricardo Franco, but each of those officers have returned to duty.
Salmon remains on paid administrative leave. According to his attorney, West Valley City police do not believe he played any part in violations made by the former narcotics unit. Salmon is currently waiting to hear if the district attorney will pursue criminal charges against him for the Willard shooting.