Review board weighs criminal charges in Willard shooting

Posted at 11:06 PM, Nov 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-09 01:06:02-05

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- It's been just over a year since West Valley Police shot and killed 21-year-old Danielle Willard; one West Valley City officer has been fired and another remains on paid administrative leave as the Salt Lake District Attorney mulls criminal charges.

Now, Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill has put together a panel of police to help determine if the two officers should be charged.

The panel includes six cops from three agencies: West Valley City, Salt Lake City and Unified Police. They are all homicide detectives who Gill said will lend expertise, training and transparency to the process.

"What is unique about it is that, the Salt Lake County DA's office doesn't have a police force,” Gill said. “I have investigators but not a police force. There's nothing typical about the collateral issues surrounding this case. We want to make sure we have subject matter expertise, we want to make sure we have an objective process if you will.”

Danielle Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, lead a protest on the anniversary of her daughter's death last Saturday. That's when she learned of the panel.

"I think it's a great idea," Kennedy said.  "This will definitely be more fair.  From the moment I heard that West Valley was going to investigate itself, I didn't think that was OK."

Officers Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon shot Willard to death after they say she drove her car at them during a drug investigation.  But DA Sim Gill ruled the shooting was unjustified. Cowley was fired.  Salmon remains on paid leave and the Utah Fraternal Order of Police questions whether the police panel is truly necessary.

"The information they have, we expect, will be the identical information that was provided to Sim Gill when he did the officer-involved shooting review," said Bret Rawson, General Counsel for Utah FOP.  "Just because there are other agencies involved, I'm not expecting that there will be different information provided to him."

Gill said, even if some information is redundant, the panel will look at the information with a fresh perspective, to decide if Danielle Willard's death warrants criminal charges.  Gill hopes to make a decision whether to file charges before the year is up.