Melissa Kennedy and Frederick Willard, parents of the late Danielle Willard, are suing local police in an extraordinary case in which they say that their daughter was shot to death “assassination style” by a now disbanded special narcotics unit that has been accused of corruption and abuse. They are suing West Valley City, its police Officers Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon, Lt. John Coyle, Police Chief Thayle “Buzz” Nielsen, and 10 Doe officers, in Federal Court.
West Valley City is a suburb of Salt Lake City. Danielle Willard, 21, was fatally shot in the back of her head around 1:30 pm by defendants Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon. The complaint states “since the tragic shooting of Danielle Willard, it has been uncovered that Officers Cowley and Salmon were engaged in a pattern and practice of illegal conduct and widespread and systemic corruption, sanctioned by the West Valley Police Department, culminating in the unjustified and senseless killing of Danielle Willard.” The Complaints details allegations of corruption in the narcotic unit leading up to its disbanding.
A statement from the police insisted that the detectives believed they saw Willard buying drugs and that when they approached her Subaru Forester, she put the vehicle in reverse. They insist that the vehicle made contact with Cowley and they both fired on the driver. However, West Valley City recently fired Shaun Cowley. His attorneys admitted that “the FBI investigation into the West Valley City Neighborhood Narcotics Unit will reveal practices and customs within the unit that are inconsistent with policies and procedures associated with law enforcement within the State of Utah,” but insisted that Cowley was following the standards and practices that he was given.
The unit was disbanded after the disappearance of money and drugs as well as the tossing out of roughly 100 drug cases. What is odd is that there are no criminal charges given this record of the unit.