FBI, DA investigating WVC Police Department

Posted at 2:57 PM, Apr 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-03 18:35:47-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - The FBI is investigating the West Valley City Police Department after allegations of cover ups and corruption. The announcement comes just days after the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office reviewed the Danielle Willard shooting.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says he needs more time to determine whether or not West Valley City police were justified in shooting Willard but the review of the case has raised new questions about whether there's a bigger problem inside the West Valley Police Department. The specific concern is the neighborhood narcotics unit, who was investigating Willard.

"This is something very serious. It's serious to our citizens. It's serious to the criminal justice system," said Sim Gill.

Both Gill and West Valley Police Department requested the FBI investigate the Willard shooting. The Willard family's lawyer Mark Geragos says West Valley's 'request' for an FBI investigation was "more than disingenuous" because the police department had already been in communication with federal investigators for weeks about the Willard case.

[Read the statement from the District Attorney's Office]

[Read the statement from the West Valley City Police Dept. (PDF)]

What specifically led to the requests is unknown, but five months after Willard's death, West Valley Police want federal agents to determine whether there was a cover-up.

"We want to restore public trust in our police department and we feel the only way we can do that, we can do our internal investigations, but we want somebody outside to come in and review the police department," said acting West Valley City Police Chief Anita Schwemmer.

West Valley City police also want the feds to determine whether there was corruption in the department’s neighborhood narcotics unit.

"Our narcotics unit was actually disbanded back in December of 2012 because we had some concerns and they have not been reorganized since then," said Schwemmer.

Sim Gill says he's dealing with three distinct, but overlapping issues.

"I think the allegations are serious and one hopes it doesn't go beyond what we've discovered," said Gill.

He wouldn't get specific beyond that but said he's investigating allegations of criminal wrongdoing in the neighborhood narcotics unit that reportedly watched Danielle Willard buy drugs on November 2. Detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon say Willard drove towards them, hitting Cowley, and the officers opened fire out of fear for their lives. Cowley told FOX 13 last week he was justified.

"When everything's said and done and all the evidence comes out, I have no doubt I will be exonerated," said Cowley.

The DA will decide that and the FBI will investigate whether there's any secondary issues stemming from the shooting. Both Cowley and Salmon remain on paid administrative leave and the four remaining officers in the neighborhood narcotics unit were reassigned to other positions with the West Valley City Police Department.

Cowley's name surfaced in 19 other cases, mostly drug related, that Gill dismissed. Now, the DA says he may be dismissing more than 100 other cases.

"I don't want to," says Gill. "We have a lot we are reviewing right now and it frankly makes me uncomfortable that the 19 may be the tip of the iceberg for us."

FOX 13 exclusively obtained a letter from LA lawyer Mark Geragos to the West Valley Acting Police Chief. In the April 3 letter, Geragos calls Willard's death an "execution" and says search warrants released by the department last week have "materially false statements."

Geragos also implies that West Valley City's press conference Wednesday was simply a public relations move because, in his words, "the West Valley Police Department has done everything to frustrate the FBI's inquiries." He further states, "There is a degree of irony that your department's attempt to cover up backfired when another agency refused to insulate you from cooperating with federal authorities."

[Read the full text of Geragos' April 3 letter to the West Valley City Police Dept.]

Shaun Cowley's lawyer Lindsay Jarvis says Cowley has welcomed an independent investigation from the beginning and regardless of who conducts that investigation, the facts will exonerate the detectives.