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WVC officials respond to accusations in Willard shooting

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Posted at 5:03 PM, Mar 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-27 19:03:59-04

WEST VALLEY CITY – The Salt Lake District Attorney and West Valley City Police Department officials are meeting to review a police shooting that occurred in November of 2012.

Danielle Willard, 21, was shot and killed by undercover drug detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon, and now the DA’s office and police are reviewing the case to determine if the shooting was justified. The review is expected to take two days.

West Valley City officials held a news conference on Wednesday to clear up what they said are misconceptions about the Willard investigation. City leaders said they believe there has been uninformed and inflammatory comments made regarding the case. In particular, they addressed the charge that there is a cover-up regarding the investigation.

City Manager Wayne Pyle said he wants to reassure the public that, “All is being done to find the truth in the Danielle Willard case, and I want to assure you that all of our efforts, from the day of the incident, have been bent toward this.”

The shooting took place in November, but it wasn’t until last week that police spoke publicly about the details surrounding the shooting. Pyle said communication could have been better.

"Certainly looking back, we would probably have done things a little bit differently at the beginning of this incident in that I personally would've liked to see a little more information out there, even if it was on a preliminary basis,” he said.

That lack of information has created controversy and accusations that West Valley City Police are involved in a cover-up, have destroyed evidence and have not cooperated with the DA. Pyle addressed some of those allegations.

"Let me make that clear: The District Attorney's office was involved from the very beginning of the investigation. I will say and can say with complete assurance nothing was lost or destroyed."

Police released search warrants last week that give their version of what happened on the night Willard was killed. According to the documents, the two detectives witnessed Willard first purchasing and then using illegal drugs.

When they approached the vehicle Willard slammed on the gas, and her vehicle struck Cowley, according to police. That’s when police fired on Willard.

Pyle said these details probably should have been revealed sooner.

"We probably could have done a little better job, frankly, on the communications," he said.

West Valley City mayor Mike Winder recently sent a letter to Pyle, encouraging him to consider reforms to the review board that oversees police actions.

One of the officers who fired on Willard, Shaun Cowley, has come forward to defend his actions in the shooting as well as in relation to 19 cases his name appeared on that were thrown out by the DA.