Pro cop rally in downtown attracts counter protestors

Posted at 7:15 PM, Aug 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-15 00:04:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A protest in downtown Salt Lake City led to several heated verbal arguments between two groups Wednesday night.

One side was in support of the two West Valley City Police officers who shot and killed Danielle Willard.

The other side agrees with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who ruled the shooting unjustified last week.

The families of officers Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon were also there, and they opened up publicly about the case for the first time. Next to them were protestors with signs, with some saying law enforcement officers are now living in fear of being prosecuted by Sim Gill.

“Ultimately Sim Gill is making this town a much more dangerous place," said one concerned citizen who lives in West Valley City.

Trista Salmon, Kevin Salmon’s wife, said her husband is being treated unjustly.

"I don't understand why they've gone this way,” she said. “He did everything right."

She said her husband is a good man and a good cop.

"He had a little boy that drowned he helped save, he's done so much,” she said.

Officer Cowley's younger sister, Rachelle, was also there to support the officers.

"There's nothing like getting a text saying your brother's been involved in a shooting," she said. "Everybody is making my brother out to be this horrible person, they don't even know him."

On the other side, however, were people like Scott Simons, whose daughter was killed in an officer-involved shooting. Gill ruled that shooting justified, yet Simons still supports him.

"I don't like these police up here challenging his integrity. It's wrong; I know the man is an honest man and has a good heart,” he said.

"I understand this is emotionally charged," Gill said.

The District Attorney said, while he understands people have a right to express their feelings about his decision in the Danielle Willard case, the streets are safe and police officers have no reason to fear him.

"I think the idea that this is somehow going to deter officers from using force is being alarmist,” he said. “I think officers who are well-trained, who understand that the majority of cases I've looked at I've justified because it was the proper use of force."

In the case of officers Cowley and Salmon, however Gill says, "It begs the next question: If it is not justified, does it implicate criminal conduct, and if it does, what is the nature of that conduct and what is the evidence? And we screen it like any other criminal case that we would screen."

Because the West Valley City shooting was unjustified, it now has to go under criminal review but that doesn't necessarily mean the officers alleged actions rise to the criminal level. Gill said had no further comment on the case, pending an investigation.

Earlier this week, Gill came under fire by the Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman Chad Bennion, who called the District Attorney a “cop hater” Monday. He also said Gill’s upbringing in India may be tainting the way he’s prosecuting cases.

FOX 13 News learned late Wednesday night, Bennion’s wife Suzette was found guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor charge of child abuse on August 9. It stems from an incident in September of 2012. Gill’s office prosecuted the case.

Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis issued the following statement Wednesday:

“This latest development in the Chad Bennion saga follows a pattern that is becoming all too familiar – top level Utah Republican officials using their offices to further personal interests. Whether it’s in the highest executive positions of the state, or a county party, this long-term one party rule has led to a culture of arrogance that continues to be incredibly disappointing.

Sim Gill’s story is the American story – his success is the American Dream. We are proud to live in a place that could make a journey like his possible. Sim is a man of unusual integrity and honor, above reproach. He is a man who always places fairness and justice ahead of partisanship. A man Utah is in desperate need of at this moment.”

Related stories:

DA: WVC detectives not justified in Danielle Willard shooting

Family, attorneys react after DA determines Willard shooting not justified

VIDEO: Exclusive interview with Shaun Cowley