This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Now that Shaun Cowley, the West Valley City narcotics detective who shot and killed drug suspect Danielle Willard about 2½ years ago, has resigned from the department just days after he was reinstated with back pay, it's time to revisit a mysterious chapter of that story.
When Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill deemed the shooting unjustified and later filed a manslaughter charge against Cowley, the Utah Fraternal Order of Police scolded the prosecutor for his decision. The FOP alleged Gill was anti-cop and that Cowley was in fear for his life when Willard ignored police orders and continued to back up her vehicle in Cowley's direction.
A judge dismissed the manslaughter count. Cowley was fired from the department over issues unrelated to the Willard case. He was reinstated recently during his appeal but resigned Monday. The city, meanwhile, shelled out more than $1.4 million to Willard's family to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.
The relationship between Gill and the FOP remains strained.
When Gill ran for re-election in 2014, the group endorsed his opponent, Steve Nelson, a prosecutor over the violent-crimes unit in the district attorney's office. Four days before the election, the FOP issued a news release asserting that Gill had recklessly ordered a suspect in an attempted murder freed from jail and then tried to cover up the mistake.
Despite the 11th-hour allegation, Gill won a second term. But his narrow victory compared with the landslide triumphs of two other Democratic incumbents on the ballot in Salt Lake County suggests he may have been hurt by the FOP attacks.
The case involved Raymond Jesus Marquina, one of four suspects arrested in the Sept. 27, 2014, shooting of a man on his front porch in West Valley City. The arrests occurred in late October and, after several days in jail, Marquina was released because prosecutors feared they did not have enough evidence to convict him, and the time to hold him constitutionally without filing formal charges had lapsed.
Here's where the story gets curious.
Nelson, the FOP-endorsed candidate, attended the management committee meeting when the strategy to release Marquina was discussed. So he was aware of what was going to happen and was in close communication with Steve Katz, the West Valley City detective involved in the Marquina probe. In fact, Katz had been to a honk-and-wave political event with Nelson before Marquina's release.
Nelson and Katz weren't mentioned in the news release castigating Gill.
The reason for Marquina's release, as discussed in the meeting attended by Nelson, was an evidentiary precedent called the Bruton rule. The only evidence prosecutors had on Marquina was the eyewitness account of an accomplice. The rule comes from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that a defendant's rights to confrontation are violated when a co-defendant's confession naming the defendant is introduced at trial without the co-defendant testifying.
Prosecutors worried the accomplice would plead the Fifth Amendment and the case would be tossed. The strategy was to release him without charges, then continue to build the case.
Marquina was rearrested and charged with several felonies Dec. 19. He remains in jail.
The FOP made no public statements after the election and has remained silent since Marquina's rearrest.
Several emails between Gill and West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo, which I obtained through a Government Records Access and Management Act request, revealed concerns by both parties about the FOP release.
FOP spokesman Ian Adams told me the news release attacking Gill was not politically motivated. He said the group worried that a dangerous criminal was released onto the streets. While the news release was issued just one day after Marquina was freed, Adams said the FOP was not tipped off by anyone with the Nelson campaign. He said it was a high-profile case, and the FOP was monitoring its progress.
Adams said the group continues to have concerns about Gill, but he's glad Marquina was rearrested, charged and remains behind bars.