West Valley City is planning to fire one of the two detectives who shot and killed Danielle Willard in November, his lawyers said Friday evening.
The city on Thursday gave notice to fire Shaun Cowley within seven to 10 days, according to a news release from two attorneys supporting him, Lindsay Jarvis and Bret Rawson. The attorneys condemned the move.
"It is our position 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," the news release said. "However, it will also reveal that at all times, Detective Cowley, at the direction of his superiors, and in accordance with his training, or in this case, lack of training, acted in accordance with the standards set forth by the West Valley City Police Department.
"This is a sad day for the West Valley City Police Department," the statement went on to say, "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."
In an interview Friday, Rawson, who is the general counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said he, Jarvis, Cowley and Deputy Chief Phil Quinlan met on Thursday, the day before the statement was released. Quinlan informed them that he would recommend Cowley's termination to Acting Chief Anita Schwemmer but that the ultimate decision would rest with her, according to Rawson.
The reasoning behind the Quinlan's recommendation was because of alleged insubordination and mishandling of evidence, both accusations that Rawson disputes. One instance of insubordination brought up at the Thursday meeting was Cowley's interview with the Fox 13 news channel last week, but Rawson said that Cowley did not talk about the investigation into the shooting, the internal investigation at the department or any other sensitive information. As for the accusations of evidence mishandling, that would lie at the feet of Cowley's supervisors, who Rawson said did not properly train the now-disbanded narcotics unit.
Rawson said the shooting death of Willard was not mentioned at the Thursday hearing. The new release made no mention of Kevin Salmon, the other detective who fired on Willard.
The news release from Jarvis and Rawson said West Valley City was terminating Cowley "based on a series of internal affairs investigations the Department has conducted since the officer-involved shooting of Danielle Willard. The Police Department cited issues of 'mishandling evidence, insubordination, and derelection of duty.'"
Aaron Crim, spokesman for the city, said that as far as he was aware, Cowley has not been told that he will be terminated. That statement also was echoed by West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle. Deputy Police Chief Mike Powell declined comment on Friday.
But the lawyers say that Cowley plans to appeal his termination. Typically, public employees have the ability to contest their firing through an administrative appeals process. If that is unsuccessful, the employee can file a lawsuit.
Cowley and Salmon shot and killed Willard on Nov. 2 outside an apartment complex in West Valley City. The police department issued a news release saying the detectives believed they saw the 21-year-old Willard buying drugs. When they approached her Subaru Forester, she put it in reverse, striking Cowley. Both detectives fired.
Cowley received what were described as minor injuries to his leg. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has not yet issued a decision on whether the shooting was legally justified.
Meanwhile, Gill has dismissed 19 criminal cases, most of them involving drugs, and most of which are associated with Cowley. Gill has said 100 more cases could be dismissed as well over "credibility" problems associated with a West Valley City detective, whom he has never identified.
West Valley City disbanded its narcotics unit in December. This week, the FBI confirmed it was formally joining investigations into that narcotics unit to determine whether detectives broke any laws and if there was a cover-up after the Willard shooting.
West Valley City's police chief, Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen, 61, retired last month, citing health problems. He served as chief for 11 years. Anita Schwemmer, who had been a captain under Nielsen, is serving as acting chief as the city searches for a replacement.
Reporter Michael McFall contributed to this report.