West Valley City Police Department under intense scrutiny
The routine investigation of two officers involved in a shooting last November has led to some hard questions being asked about the policies and procedures in place at the West Valley City Police Department.
Officers Shawn Cowley and Kevin Salmon were involved in the shooting death of Danielle Willard while investigating a suspected drug deal on Nov. 2. Both were placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation of the shooting. After what is termed a “critical incident,” local police are routinely investigated internally by the West Valley City Police Department and also by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
After a months-long investigation of the officers’ involvement, the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, an organization that often advocates for officers and helps provide them with counsel, released a statement calling for District Attorney Sim Gill to recuse himself from the case due to mishandling.
During the investigation of an officer-involved shooting, the district attorney is responsible to determine if the incident was unjustified or criminal, and if it will go to trial. Gill has not recused himself from the case and was unavailable for comment at press time.
West Valley City Chief of Police Anita Schwemmer said the case had taken months to investigate, due to the complexity of the evidence.
“We’re working on it as quickly as possible while trying to be thorough and fair,” Schwemmer said. “Our goal is to find the truth, whatever that is. We want to make sure they have their due process.”
The police department is responsible to conduct a separate investigation to determine if the officer violated internal policies and procedures. After an investigation, the deputy chief of police and then the internal Professional Standards Review Board review the case and make recommendations, but the chief of police makes the final decision.
On April 4, the department notified Cowley that they intended to terminate his employment with the city within seven to 10 days. (Cowley had not been terminated as of press time.) Salmon is still under investigation and is on paid administrative leave.
After Cowley was notified, the Utah Fraternal Order of Police released this statement: “This is a sad day for the West Valley City Police Department, as it suggests the department is more interested in hanging a single officer out to dry rather than holding their supervisors and administrators accountable for what appears to be a pervasive and systematic failure to train and supervise their narcotics officers. It is extremely unfortunate because Detective Cowley did the best he could with the training her received.”
The Utah F.O.P. statement made the case that Cowley was let go after participating in a taped interview with media and was cited for insubordination.
Schwemmer said the police department has cooperated with the district attorney’s office during the investigation, and followed all appropriate policies and procedures.
The West Valley City Police Department and Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office has requested assistance from the Federal Bureau of Intelligence to resolve the investigation of both officers, which is ongoing.
In a press conference held April 12 by West Valley City officials, City Manager Wayne Pyle said that the West Valley City Police Department internal investigation had been concluded. He said a number of issues had been discovered with the policies and procedures in the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit that will need to be addressed.
The investigation will now be handled by the District Attorney’s Office and the F.B.I.
“We’re handing that information off …They will now conduct the investigations as they see properly,” Pyle said.