D.A. Gill, West Valley City's top cop have 'frank' talk over shooting review
Danielle Willard shooting • Nearly three months later, probe still under way.
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Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he and West Valley City Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen had a "a very frank discussion" Wednesday about the pace of a nearly 3-month-old investigation into the fatal shooting of Danielle Willard.

Gill told The Salt Lake Tribune that he and his staff also met late last week with WVCPD investigators reviewing the Nov. 2 incident in which the allegedly unarmed 21-year-old Willard was shot and killed by two drug detectives.

"Based on the information they shared with us last week, and my 30-40 minute [telephone] conversation with the chief this morning, they are … moving forward with their investigation [but] it involves a complex set of facts and issues," Gill said. "At this stage, there are things they need to finish up on."

"I appreciate his desire to be thorough. But we had a very frank discussion this morning about it. I do believe they are trying their best to get this done," Gill added."They want to make sure everything is done right and accurate [and] I have confidence in them finishing this up as quickly as possible."

Family and friends of Danielle Willard held a protest outside West Valley City Hall on Tuesday demanding answers. Some held signs implying a cover up was under way — an allegation police have strongly denied.

Nielsen was not available to answer questions about the case Wednesday, but Deputy Chief Mike Powell reiterated a statement issued earlier that expressed sympathy for the Willard family — and defended the pace of the shooting investigation.

"We are conducting a thorough investigation and we are going to continue through with that until we have done everything we feel needs to be done and completed — just like any other case," Powell said.

He suggested there is a misconception, perhaps fed by television crime dramas, about how quickly investigations and results can be expected.

"We live in this era of media [entertainment] where you see on TV shows six months of investigative work completed within 38 minutes of a show," Powell said. "That's not reality. We are working in conjunction with the district attorney, and we are working as diligently as we can."

Once the internal investigation is completed, the WVCPD's report will be submitted to Gill's office for screening. Gill said Wednesday that his office will issue its findings in a timely manner, after its own thorough review.

The Willard family has established a website, JusticeForDanielle.org, to follow the case. On Monday, the group issued a statement arguing that the officers involved in the shooting should be fired and charged criminally.

The District Attorney's Office under Gill so far has ruled that three officer-involved shootings in Salt Lake County were not justified. One of those rulings led to charges of reckless endangerment against West Valley City police Officer Jared Cardon in the May 2011 nonfatal shooting of Jose Contreras, but the charges were later dismissed.

Gill's office declined to prosecute Salt Lake City police officers involved in the other two shootings that were ruled unjustified.

Willard was originally from Vancouver, Wash., but lived in Utah for the last few months of her life. She had moved to Murray to enroll in a drug rehabilitation program to overcome a heroin addiction.

On Nov. 2, Willard was shot twice in the head outside the Lexington Park Apartments, 2292 Lexington Park Drive (3710 South), as two plainclothes officers were conducting a drug investigation.

Willard was unarmed and sitting in her car at the time, according to her mother.

remims@sltrib.com