SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah police officer involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman last year is also linked to all but one of the 19 drug cases recently dropped due to a lack of credible evidence, court records show.
Officials have released few details since Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said last week that the dropped cases were identified as part of an ongoing investigation that involves one unidentified West Valley City officer.
Gill and West Valley City police have said it’s premature to release further details or name the officer involved, but court records show one officer’s name appears in the cases more than any other: Detective Shaun Cowley.
Court records show Cowley is listed as one of the officers involved in at least 18 of the 19 cases, more than any other officer. The officer mentioned the second-most is only in 11 of the cases.
Cowley is also one of two officers police have named as being involved in the shooting death of Danielle Misha Willard last November.
The West Valley City Police Department and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office say their investigation into the 21-year-old woman’s death is standard procedure for an officer-involved shooting.
Despite Cowley’s name being tied to both Willard’s death and the 19 drug cases, West Valley City Police spokesman Sgt. Jason Hauer said there’s no connection.
“Those are totally separate investigations,” Hauer said. “They have nothing to do with each other.”
A phone number listed for Cowley was disconnected. Police also declined to name the attorney Cowley has retained for the officer-involved shooting case.
After media outlets reported Cowley’s name was linked to the 19 cases, the Utah police union issued a statement saying it was “unfortunate” that he was named and the cases were dismissed before the investigation was complete.
“We are aware of the facts of the case as it applies to Officer Cowley and we are confident that he will be exonerated,” said Bret Rawson, general counsel for the Utah Fraternal Order of Police.
The West Valley City Police Department said it began an internal review after becoming aware of evidence issues linked to cases conducted by one detective, and the department is working with an outside law enforcement agency and the District Attorney’s Office to investigate.
The cases, which span from 2008 to 2012, mostly involve drug offenses and were in various stages of the legal process when Gill moved to dismiss them. In some cases, only initial documents had been filed while others were ready for trial.
Mark Geragos, an attorney working for Willard’s family, said Cowley is tied to both the woman’s death and the dropped cases.
Geragos also said police have been uncooperative and withholding records and evidence related to Willard’s death and called the investigation a “complete whitewash.”
West Valley Police had been tight-lipped about Willard’s shooting until last week, when a statement and search warrant were released.
According to the documents, Cowley and another detective were conducting a drug investigation at a West Valley City apartment complex on Nov. 2 when they witnessed what they believed was a drug deal between Willard and a man.
The officers tried to confront Willard after she pulled into a nearby parking lot and began using drugs while still in her car, police said. When the detectives approached Willard and identified themselves as police, she put her car in reverse, striking Cowley.
Both Cowley and the other officer fired their guns at Willard, who was struck and killed.
Cowley had minor injuries to his leg, police said.
Hauer said both officers are on paid administrative leave, which is standard in an officer-involved shooting.
Geragos, a prominent Los Angeles-area attorney whose high-profile clients have included Chris Brown and Michael Jackson, said none of the information in the case adds up.
There are “material falsehoods” in the police department’s version of events, Geragos said, but he declined to offer specifics.
The police department said it’s working to complete a thorough investigation and plan to share its review of the officers’ use of deadly force with the District Attorney’s Office by the end of the month.
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