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Former Federal Judge Joins Former WVCPD Officer's Defense Team in Manslaughter Case

Brian Grimmett
Matheson Courthouse

University of Utah law professor and former U.S. District Court Judge Paul Cassell has joined the defense team for the former West Valley City Police detective who shot and killed Danielle Willard.

In June Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill charged former West Valley City Police Detective Shaun Cowley with felony manslaughter for his involvement in the shooting death of Danielle Willard. In November of 2012 officers Cowley and another officer shot at Willard in the parking lot of a West Valley City apartment complex after she allegedly reversed her car towards them as they approached.

University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell says the Fraternal Order of Police came to him to get independent analysis of the evidence. He says the more he investigated, the clearer it became that charging Cowley was the wrong thing to do.

“I think a very good office has made a very bad mistake here," Cassell says. "Basically, this is a situation where the evidence shows that the officer was facing a threat of serious bodily injury and maybe death. And that’s a situation where an officer can defend himself with deadly force.”

He also says that wrongfully prosecuting Cowley for defending himself could lead to police officers losing confidence in their ability to use force in dangerous situations, and that could lead to avoiding them altogether.

But Gill says that hasn’t been the case.

“Look at the fact that we have found some cases to be unjustified in my administration, but that has not stopped the use of force," Gill says. "In fact, post Danielle Willard we have several use of forces that have occurred and we’ve found those to be justified.”

He says he believes officers should be held accountable for their actions and that bringing charges is an important part of that process. 

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