Public records law aided investigation of police department

By Janelle Stecklein

Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune

Our coverage of West Valley City began last November with the fatal officer-involved shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard. When several months passed with very little information being released, we started to get curious about what could be going on.

We started asking questions of both the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which determines whether the police were justified in use of force, and the West Valley City Police Department, which employed the two officers who shot and killed Willard.

From there, we learned that there were some issues with the police department’s Neighborhood Narcotics Unit that ultimately led to nine officers being put on leave, a federal investigation, the dismissal of 125 cases and a variety of other probes. We used court records to track cases and defendants, including thousands of dollars in property that the District Attorney’s Office had already seized.

Utah public’s record law, known as GRAMA, has proven invaluable in our ongoing coverage of the issue. We’ve filed at least a dozen GRAMA requests in the past two-or-so months to obtain policies, police discipline records, court filings, etc.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

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