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Pyle: Danielle Willard's family wishes they had Mark Shurtleff's problem

Published June 20, 2014 12:37 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"They pointed guns at my daughter. You can see her. Does she look like a threat?"

That was former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, in full dudgeon. You would be, too, if a squad of law enforcement officers pointed high-powered, laser-sighted weapons at your young, defenseless daughter.

But it could just as easily have been said by the parents of Danielle Willard.

Shurtleff was able to bring his 17-year-old daughter to a legislative committee hearing the other day. That's where he, accustomed to moving through the halls of power and chatting up the press, complained about the way his family was treated by state and federal agents who executed a search warrant on his home early this month.

Willard's mother has been afforded no such opportunity. She is not a former elected official. Her 21-year-old daughter wasn't just threatened by officers back on Nov. 2, 2012. She was killed by one.

Thursday, Salt Lake County charged a former West Valley City narcotics investigator with second-degree felony manslaughter in connection with that death.

The charges followed — by rather a long time — District Attorney Sim Gill's determination that the officers who said they thought Willard was leaving a drug deal in possession of some controlled substance, and claimed they fired on her in self-defense as she tried to drive away, were not justified in their use of deadly force.

Whatever a jury may rule in the case of ex-cop Shaun Cowley, it is clear that aiming firearms at unarmed young women in parking lots due only to a suspicion that she may have purchased something bad is an all-too-common symptom of the delusional anti-drug drug.

That affliction has clouded the minds of otherwise sensible lawmakers, cops and whole communities. All of whom justify, in the futile fight against illegal drugs, levels of suspicion and violence that they would never contemplate in the investigation of even more serious crimes.

Crimes such as, oh, bribery, extortion, influence peddling and turning the top office in the Utah law enforcement system into a pay-to-play casino for payday lenders, online swindlers and anyone else who paid the price of entry into the inner circle of the enterprise run by Shurtleff and his hand-picked successor, John Swallow.

Neither Shurtleff nor Swallow has been criminally charged, much less convicted, of anything. But an accumulation of accusations over several months has been enough to justify the swearing out of more than one search warrant.

When one such warrant was served on Shurtleff's home June 2, the former official's angry reaction was both totally understandable and the subject of much mirth and schadenfreude.

How rich, said many authors of letters and posters of comments. This man sat atop the state's law enforcement establishment for 12 years while heavily armed officers, because of Shurtleff or in spite of him, were crashing into homes and businesses in search of undocumented workers or small-time drug stashes. Now he takes great umbrage that members of his family were frightened by just such an operation.

It actually does generate some sympathy for lawmen who launch such raids. That was only an unarmed 17-year-old girl behind that bathroom door. But the FBI didn't know that until she stepped out.

And it would be interesting if the everybody-ought-to-have-a-gun crowd were to see that we are all less safe when police in a state awash with firearms and Don't Tread On Me T-shirts are more likely to aim first and ask questions later.

One thing Shurtleff and his traumatized family should understand, if only because the rest of us understand it, is that the actions he and his protégé are accused of did, if true, threaten the state of Utah, its people and its system of justice far, far more than anything any hundred drug dealers or thousand undocumented workers could ever do.

Is that worth shooting an innocent girl over? Absolutely not. But it happens.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is more than willing to come out with his hands up.


Twitter: @debate state






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