Danielle Willard’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against West Valley City and the officers who shot and killed their daughter, a shooting that ignited a chain of events that has roiled the police in Utah’s second-largest city. Melissa Kennedy and Frederick Willard sued in federal court. The complaint, which also alleges various civil rights violations, does not specify how much they’re seeking in damages.
The suit described Willard’s death "unjustified and senseless," and that the shooting was "unrelated to any legitimate law enforcement purpose." "In my mind that was murder," Kennedy said in an interview Wednesday. Kennedy said she doesn’t believe West Valley police have been honest about what happened that day, when police say the undercover detectives shot at Willard, 21, after she backed her car into Cowley and knocked him to the ground. Part of the reason for the suit is so all the evidence can be in a court for a jury to decide, she said.
The department’s routine investigation of the shooting led to the discovery that the narcotics unit as a whole had several problems, including mishandling of evidence, booking evidence without proper documentation —and the possibility of missing drugs and money. The city disbanded the unit in December. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and federal prosecutors have dismissed over 100 cases associated with the unit.
"West Valley City continued the employment of Cowley and Salmon and allowed little to no supervision of these officers in spite of the fact that these officers had prior citizen complaints for misconduct," the lawsuit reads. "[Coyle] was a lieutenant... and allowed the rampant corruption, and participated in the corruption within the department, which all led to the death of Danielle Willard."
Attorneys representing Kennedy have argued before the Salt Lake County Council that documents related to the shooting should be released under Utah’s public record’s laws. District Attorney Sim Gill’s office had denied the request because the information is protected because of the ongoing investigation and that the records belong to West Valley City and Kennedy’s attorneys are asking the wrong entity for them.
Gill does not expect to wrap their probe into the shooting until at least July. His office usually turns an officer-involved shooting case in 10 days, but he’s noted the plethora of side issues linked to the complicated case as cause for delay.