The shooting took no more than two and a half seconds. But that was long enough to kill an innocent, unarmed woman, and destroy the lives of her friends and family in the process. But now, a West Valley City, Utah police detective Shaun Cowley says that it’s his life that’s been ruined.
Detective Cowley drew his Glock and fire two shots through young Danielle Willard’s driver’s side car window and then her skull.
“The shooting cost me everything,” Detective Cowley told local WWLTV. “You make a split-second decision about whether you go home that day and someone else does not. That’s a heavy burden.”
But the family of Danielle Willard are the real ones who have lost everything.
“It’s been a tough few-plus years,” Melissa Kennedy, the mother of the slain 21-year-old, said. “We are still so terribly hurt and confused.”
Detective Cowley, 34, was one of six detectives working on heroin and meth busts in the Salt Lake City suburb.
“We were very busy,” he recalls. “Drugs are so rampant. It’s just crazy.”
As part of an investigation into a local white supremacist group that was selling drugs, they staked out an apartment complex and saw a woman in a car putting something into her mouth.
“She immediately looks up and I see her put something in her mouth,” he added. “We believed she was trying to ingest heroin.
“Now, she’s escalated this,” he claimed, so he drew his service weapon and aimed at her.
“Get out of the car,” Cowley screamed. But she didn’t respond yet. Her doors were locked and the windows were rolled up.
She backed the car up and Cowley freaked out, thinking that she was going to hit his partner.
“I see her vehicle flying at me in reverse,” he said. “I think he’s dead,” he added, claiming that he couldn’t see his partner and assumed the worst. “My brain is going, ‘You are going to die. She’s coming at you fast …’ All I see is the back windshield coming at me faster than anything I could imagine.”
He says that he doesn’t remember shooting Willard. Everything went black.
Nine months later, the department released a report saying that the shooting wasn’t justified. The autopsy conducted on Willard found no drugs at all in her system.
It took another 10 months, however, before the officers involved were charged with manslaughter.
The Police Chief Buzz Nielsen resigned, citing “health reasons.” The new chief, Lee Russo, claims that the shooting was a “flashpoint” for the department.
“It was the moment that brought the department to a grinding halt,” he explains. “We are a completely different agency than we were.”
Russo eventually fired Cowley for mishandling evidence, including money that went missing.
“You have a police officer who loses drugs and money,” Russo said. “Is that the kind of police officer you want in the community?”
Cowley is now fighting to rejoin the force and claims that his “life has been ruined.”
“It was so stressful and lonely,” he says of his home life now. “I was on my own. You hear and read all the negative comments about you.”
“I was unemployable,” he added. “My name was so much in the media here.”
His wife left him and now he lays hardwood floors and works with a relative repairing medical equipment, he says – commenting on his job as though it can be compared to shooting an innocent, unarmed woman in the prime of her life.
But he adds that he is now living in his parents’ basement, apparently believing that the public should actually feel sorry for him, rather than the family and friends of his victim.
(Article by Jackson Marciana)