Judge rules Shaun Cowley will not stand trial for manslaughter in death of Danielle Willard

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge tossed the manslaughter case against former West Valley City police detective Shaun Cowley, accused in the death of Danielle Willard.

In a ruling late Thurday, 3rd District Court Judge L.A. Dever dismissed the case against Cowley, who threw his head back and heaved a sigh of relief.

"I've stated all along, from the first interview I believe I did with you guys, the evidence would show I'd be acquitted," Cowley told FOX 13. "Feels good."

Cowley was charged with manslaughter after Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the Nov. 2, 2012 shooting of Willard unjustified. But in his ruling on Thursday, Judge Dever said the prosecution's own witnesses said Cowley could have reasonably believed his life was in danger.

"The state's primary expert testified the defendant could assume Ms. Willard was attempting to kill him and deadly force was an appropriate response," Judge Dever said.  "This testimony establishes reasonable belief that the circumstances provided legal justification for the defendant's conduct."

Read the judge's ruling here:

Cowley insisted he fired his gun in self-defense, after he and Det. Kevin Salmon encountered Willard in a West Valley City apartment complex parking lot. They identified themselves as law enforcement officers, the judge said, and attempted to speak to Willard when she put the car in reverse.

Cowley's defense said he fired his gun out of fear for his life, believing Willard was going to run him over.

Speaking to reporters outside of court, Salmon blasted the district attorney for leveling charges -- and accused Gill of lying to bring them, claiming a panel convened to consider the case recommended against it.

"This district attorney is amazing! He will stop at nothing to pass his political agenda and fulfill his promise of nobody's above the law," said Salmon. "Well, if nobody's above the law, let's hold Sim accountable for his lies and his actions in this matter."

Salmon said he quit the West Valley City Police Department on Thursday morning, unhappy with the direction it has been going. Cowley was fired over accusations of mishandling evidence, and is fighting to get his job back.

Outside court, deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Blake Nakamura denied any wrongdoing in bringing the case, and said they continue to believe the evidence was sufficient to support the charges. Gill later released a statement saying:

"We respect the process of our judicial system even if it produces results that we may not agree with. As I have always said, the process needs to be respected, they are the rules by which we engage when we have differences of opinions.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office has a responsibility to forward cases for judicial review when we believe conduct violated the law and calls into question the actions of public servants.

We filed the criminal charges that we believed were appropriate. Consistent with our system of law, we accept the Court’s determination."

Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, left the courthouse in tears and declining to comment to FOX 13. She has a wrongful death lawsuit pending against West Valley City over her daughter's death.

"The best we can say for the prosecution it was inadequate and the worst it was completely incompetent," said Scott Simons, a friend of Kennedy's whose daughter was also shot by police officers.

Cowley hugged his lawyers and family after court. Supporters wore blue T-shirts that read "Team Cowley."

"The last two years have taken a toll on my life and my family that people cannot understand. I have seen how people form hateful opinions without knowing any of the facts of the case," he said. "I've been forced to watch the media as they reported false truths and occasionally downright lies."

Cowley would not say if he plans to continue to work in law enforcement.

"Shaun Cowley has been villainized over the last two years," said his attorney, Lindsay Jarvis.


  • trevor

    I hope her family sues him in a civil court, if that’s possible. Can’t believe the judge sided with him.

    • Bob

      Suing somebody only pays if you can convince a jury to award your case. The very very best the family of the drug user can hope for is a split jury.

    • carol

      Good for officer Calley!! Maybe now these thugs,drug dealers and alike will start taking the police seriously!!

      • iamronni

        You’re kidding right Carol? Please tell me you’re kidding. How can anyone NOT take police seriously lately? With the “shot first, ask questions when they’re dead, and can’t answer” attitude? ! I was a correctional officer for 8 years and I don’t agree with the trend law enforcement seems to be on. These people being killed haven’t faced a jury of their peers. They have faced a jury of one. We need to totally overhaul law enforcement practices and review boards.

      • nonmormon

        Well carol and bob and the dumbazze judge , hopefully the next person to get their brains blown out by a crooked cop will be YOUR CHILD!!!!!! Tell us carol how it feels when it happens to you, you sanctimonious joke for a human or mother! Hey why don’t we put a target on one of your kids foreheads??? You have so much faith in these idiots they can be your kids pallbearers….. SKANK

    • Trace

      There is a system of corruption in the Justice system that makes me sick. I ALWAYS worry whenever I have to interact with ANY PART of our so called legal system. I know there are good officers, but I don’t trust any of them. God bless Danielle Willard’s family.

  • CMN

    I hope Officer Cowley sues Sim Gill for $millions. The state and Salt Lake County citizens should demand for Gill to resign and offer and apology and admit the charges brought against Cowley were politically motivated!

    • trevor

      You probably didn’t even follow the story. If you’d even read any of the evidence against him you might be able to think for yourself instead of having politician’s do it for you.

    • michelle

      I totally agree, thank God that justice prevailed and that the Judge who actually HAD all the evidence in front of him, saw that this shooting was justified. I just love all the people who comment that this was an unfair ruling, and that they should sue him in civil court etc.. Some of you fine people comment, and make accusations like you were there… THE JUDGE HAD ALL THE EVIDENCE, you didn’t so stop trying to vilify all cops. Sim Gill LIED and he needs to be investigated next…

      • Momof3inUT

        Michelle, I agree wholeheartedly with you, all the individuals that state the Danielle Willard’s family should sue, it is their prerogative, but yhey don’t have all the information. The Judge has all the information. and he made a decision and followed the due process. Let us not forget that Danielle Willard was a drug addict and has prior convictions, right, wrong or indifferent, she had responsibility to all of this. Shaun Cowley has been held responsible to his actions: pain for his family, lost his job, name dragged through the mud, etc… all by doing his job of protecting all of us.

      • brandy

        You misunderstand what this was about. It does not change the fact that it was unjustified. Just means he won’t stand trial for manslaughter. It’s still an UNJUSTIFIED MURDER!!

      • brandy

        She paid the price with her life are you freaking kidding me you people and all your IGNORANT comments disgust me.

      • trevor

        You have no idea what you’re talking about. You read bias news apparently and haven’t been keeping up on this case. How can you be run over while standing to the side of a car? I’ve seen it in COPS plenty of times. Suspect is in a car, cop is on the side. They decide they want to run, like Danielle more than likely did, but the smart cop and the one that is following protocol get out of the way and don’t need to shoot. Then they can chase them. You really don’t have to pull out your pistol every time and shoot people. Go back to the other news source you’ve been reading and stay there.


        You just don’t get it Brandy. Judge Dever said the prosecution’s own witnesses said Cowley could have reasonably believed his life was in danger. It was the choices Danielle Willard made that ultimately cost her her life.

    • Finny Wiggen

      I completely agree! Sim Gill is a classless and unprofessional guy. What kind of public official is so narcissistic that they actually take out a billboard bragging about who they prosecute. “Nobody is above the law!”

  • Bob

    There was a reason why Sim Gill had so much trouble trying to get an indictment. Getting shot is an occupational hazard when you’re involved with illegal pharmaceuticals and try to run over the nice police officer.

  • MIchael Drawe

    Shooting tires was not a possibility? Why did he think just to end her life was the only solution?

    • Wow

      Shooting out tires does not gaureuntee the vehicle will stop. Eliminating the driver will. Sorry, if you try and cause a deadly injury to an officer (or anyone) you do not deserve to live… Why do people protect CRIMINALS so much? She made her bed, now she’s lying in it…

    • Bob

      Every take any classes in physics Michael? Get some 3rd grader to explain the obvious error in your logic.
      Better question Michael is why didn’t Miss Willard just think to just get a citation and live to see the rising sun?

      • MIchael Drawe

        Bob, I’ve had to deal with split-second decisions in my tenure in the military. Cops aren’t the only ones in these situations. There were more options then just to point a gun at someone.

      • Bob

        No one in our military, Michael, and I mean NO ONE would be stupid enough to suggest that shooting at the tire of a moving vehicle would make one bit of difference in the short distance between the suspect and the officer.
        You can be anything you want Michael on the internet …. even a combat hardened military strategist. Sheeesh!!

    • michelle

      Perhaps, you would like to cough up some extra tax dollars to send all the cops in the world to expert marksmanship classes, so that when placed in situations where they must make split second choices with a 4000 pound car coming at them, they will perfectly execute a shot to the tire… Really? Michael.. Really?

      • lafemmafatalle33@yahoo.com

        If you’d care to take a look at the pictures of the “4000 pound car heading toward him”, you’d notice that said 4000 pound car was blocked in and couldn’t have been going in any direction faster than .01mph.

        The most unintelligent response on this thread.

    • e. Parker

      Watch the show COPs and tell me if a spike strip stops a car instantly from continuing on it’s way after the tires are flat. If the cop shot the tires, the car may have still hit him. So in life or death situations they would be stupid to shoot the tires.

    • Ron

      Wow really Michael??? you come on here claiming to be military trained and suggest shooting out the tires…..of a moving car…..in close proximity to you??? clearly you have never been in combat, oversees or in a situation where your life is on the line. I have close relatives that have been overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and they all said, if a vehicle refuse to stop for them they shoot……the engine block with the big .50 cal or just shoot the cabin until the car stops moving. the reason…..they know that the driver intends to kill them. So please dont bring your military stuff into this, i hate to have to say this to you since i have a deep respect for our service men and women.

  • Bob

    Why did Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill take five judges to court, apparently over their refusal to appoint a grand jury to investigate this case? Gill failed in his attempt last year to get a grand jury last year for the November 2012 shooting of Danielle Willard by two West Valley City police officers.

    There was a reason these five judges said no to him.

  • CM Burns

    I cannot wait for Trish to open her fat mouth and defend her loser friend… The lesson here is, listen to the officers and do not be a loser drug addict…

  • Jr kent

    There’s too many officers that are trigger happy because they have a badge don’t give them the right to kill people or even pets

    • Bob

      Zig Ziglar — ‘Some of us learn from other people’s mistakes and the rest of us have to be other people.’
      Sad that so many people, including Danielle Willard, have such low regard for the laws our society lives by.

  • Ron Caster

    I have one simple question in all of the pictures of the scene Why is there a Jeep blocking the path of the forester? as if she backed into it? looking at the scene and if its the way the dirty cop says then the jeep would have prevented him being ran over…. and one other issue at hand, Cowley stated he drew his gun prior to her backing her car, as a Show of force, Ive dealt with the neighborhood narco team in the past they are not uniformed they are plain clothed and often times neglect to wear a badge. This is why we need a review board of citizens, who police the police? Lets get the serial killers off of the force.

    • Bob

      What we really need Ron is a genius like MICHAEL DRAWE on the citizen’s review board that thinks the answer is shooting at a car tire.

  • Craig

    It’s unfortunate a person is dead and it is unfortunate that someone had to shoot her. I don’t believe that she woke up that morning deciding that she wanted to die, and I’m sure he didn’t wake up wanting to shoot and kill someone. In this case, life decisions were made in a matter of seconds. There are no winners here! Just sadness for all parties….

  • donttazemebro

    For months now its only been negative comments and police haters that comment on these forums. I being an officer myself have thought that there are no supporters out there of Police, and at times it seems disparaging. But now I see, the “normal” crowd of society wait for the facts, they wait for due process, that is re-assuring. It is good to see good people of society finally sticking up for justice and now that a judge has spoken, the true defenders of citizens are speaking out. This was a bad incident and tragic.

    • breedemyoung

      unfortunately until the rest of America realizes that prohibition does not work and takes the same stepa as Coloraso and Washington, law enforcement will never trust the police.

      • breedemyoung

        correction …people will never trust law enforcement, I also know some law enforcement that don’t trust law enforcement but that’s a whole different issue.


        If you have nothing better to do with your life than get high on drugs move to Colorado or Washington where they don’t care what you do with your body. Get some tattoos and body piercings that your mother would appreciate while your at it.

    • Trace

      Kind of like Officers giving tickets, even when they know they are lying or unsure. How when you go to court you are GUILTY until proven innocent? I believe a convict over most officers. Most lie, cheat and steal.

  • breedemyoung

    whether he was guilty or not guilty this story still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the Utah people , and I find that I can no longer trust law enforcement!

  • dale

    well all i can say i believe he reacted the way should of , but at same time need to get practice of shooting could of disable car or even wound he driver so she could not proceed to act out. no need to shoot to kill . but that’s my opinion

  • Finny Wiggen

    I don’t think anyone is really surprised by this. Look at Mr. Gill’s billboards. “No one is above the law!”
    Who brags about prosecuting high profile cases?

    A totally classless and unprofessional individual. You don’t brag about who you are prosecuting, unless you are prosecuting them for political gain.

  • Sterling Wulff

    West Valley Police and Judge…. You Stinking Lying Murderers. Danielle was a PASSENGER in the car she was killed in while ducking from the trigger happy gun fire from your stinking police department. The driver got out and ran away while she was MURDERED in the passenger seat of the car… so as to the judges ruling that Danielle put the car in reverse and attempted to run over that chicken S*it police officer is a complete fabricated LIE.


    • Really?

      So, you were there? You witnessed the whole thing go down? You have a degree in crimal justice and crime scene analysis. Are you a BAR approved lawyer or judge? You are just another anti-police arm chair legal expert… A drug addict got whipped out, I don’t see the issue…

    • Really?

      So you witnessed the whole incident with your own eyes? Are you a legal expert with crime scene training and knowledge?

    • Bob

      You have the typical attitude of the losers the police take to jail …. after they take them to the ground and but the cuffs on them.

  • Joseph Smith

    If you are a criminal and try to run over an officer, you will be shot! This is not rocket science… There is no “police state”, just stupid people not listening to officers… If Willard would have complied, she would alive…


      If you behave yourself Joseph the police will have no need to stop you, and yes, I suppose its a fair statement that trying to run over a police officer may not always be a good idea.

  • repeal1968guncontrolact

    Shaun is relieved well isn’t that wonderful. Danielle was relieved of her life when she committed the capital crime of trying to flee from judge, jury, and executioner. I wish this criminal excuse for a judge was on my ballot so I could vote against IT.

    • Bob

      Look on the positive side REPEAL1968GUNCONTROLACT – The vast majority of our citizens support the police and not the drug addicts who have nothing better to do than try escaping reality via drugs. Too bad, so sad.

  • Phil

    What makes more sense if you are afraid for your life? Stand your ground and shoot at the driver of a 4000 lb vehicle, or “move out of the way”? Hummmm

  • Bob

    Why all the wailing and moaning from those in support of drug addicts? How about a little sympathy for decent hard working people who are the victims of drug addicts looking for a little money so they can score their next fix?

Comments are closed.

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