21-year old Danielle Willard was shot by two officers last November in a parking lot at a West Valley apartment complex.
The two officers, Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon attempted to arrest Willard after they spotted her allegedly buying heroin from a known drug dealer. Cowley told investigators that he approached Willard's car when she took off. He claimed Willard hit him and he shot in self defense. Salmon also fired at Willard. Six shots were fired and one of the bullets hit her head and another hit her chin.
"It is the conclusion of the Salt Lake DA’s office that resulted in the death of Danielle Willard on November 2, 2012 by detective Kevin Salmon and Shaun Cowley was not justified," says DA Sim Gill.
In Cowley’s statement to investigators he claimed: "I heard the tires screech on (Willard's) car. Her car was coming towards me at what I felt was an extremely high rate of speed"
But Gill says his investigators didn’t see it that way.
“It moved out rapidly but not enough to screech tires or leave tire impressions behind that could be detected by the accident reconstruction experts," Gill says.
Cowley fired twice: "I had my gun in my hand and I fired a round at her ... as I was being hit and I fired a second round, right as I was hitting the ground or on my way to the ground."
Again, Gill saw it differently.
“It is our position based on the forensic evidence he was not behind the vehicle,” Gill says. “The angle of the shots fired by detective Cowley place him on the side of the vehicle driven by Ms. Willard."
Meaning Cowley was out of harms way according to investigators.
Salmon also claimed he fired because Cowley was hit by the car.
“When pressed he indicated he did not actually see Cowley get hit,” says Gill.
Cowley claimed Willard was eating the evidence when he approached her.
But Gill says there was no trace of drugs in her system. He says the heroin was in the side of the car's door.
When asked if the two officers lied, Gill held back.
“I am not going to speculate to what their motivation was,” he says. “I can tell you based on the forensic evidence and information that we have that the story we are being presented is not corroborated.”
Gill says his office will begin a criminal investigation for possible charges against the two officers.
“Certainly our analysis is different and certainly our burden of proof is different,” he says.
Gill says criminal charges aren't always filed in cases like this.
“My office has found some cases where officers were not justified but we did not think either they rose to a level of prosecution or the evidence was not there,” he says.
Gill says the FBI looked into whether Cowley and Salmon knew Willard from the past or conspired to cover up the evidence.
“Their assistance to us did not show any collusion any cover up any conspiracy,” Gill says.
The DA says he has no agenda against these two officers or any other cops he's determined to be out of line when it comes to an officer involved shooting.
He says the criminal investigation will tell him what to do.
“We will file charges if they're warranted,” says Gill. “We will not file charges if they're not warranted.
The two officers Cowley and Salmon remain on administrative leave.