The Good People of Culpeper

When Culpeper Town Police Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright shot and killed Patricia Cook, he claimed he had no choice.  If he hadn’t killer her, she would have killed him. That’s what he said.

Fifty-four-year-old Patricia Cook was shot to death on February 9 just outside a church parking lot in Culpeper, Virginia. The first two rounds, fired at point-blank range, tore into Cook’s face and arm. Another round, fired as Cook was driving away from the shooter, entered her brain. A fourth round severed her spine and veered into her heart, killing her. A telephone pole brought her Jeep Wrangler to a halt.

Patricia Cook had been parked in front of Epiphany Catholic School for a long time and refused to leave. The school called the police. A Culpeper police officer confronted Cook. Cook rolled up the officer’s arm in her window and punched the gas. The officer did what he had to do to stop the vehicle and save his own life.

He was a goner. No choice. He had to kill her.  Her rap-sheet reflected her danger to society:

Cook was a 54-year-old homemaker and Methodist Sunday school teacher who hadn’t received so much as a speeding ticket since the 1970s. She enjoyed quilting and cooking for her congregation at Culpeper United Methodist Church.

Pure evil.  In a small town like Culpeper (Pop. 16,000), a killing is big news. It lasted for about two weeks in the Culpeper Times, then died. It was limited to rehashing the official version of the killing, which didn’t sit well with some locals.
Local residents flooded the comment boards of the Star-Exponent*. Under the guise of anonymity, they defended “Pat” Cook, and called for an investigation into the Culpeper Police Department. “Two weeks after the shooting, [the publication] stopped that,” [Former elementary school teacher, 56-year-old James] Jennings says of the message boards. “It deleted all the existing comments and all the existing discussion on that.” The paper relaunched with Facebook commenting, requiring people to identify themselves. At that point, the message boards for the small-town paper went silent. “I think people were afraid to speak up,” Jennings says, adding, “there are a couple of bullies in town.”

So local news was sanitized, and local residents silenced. Even though witnesses disputed the police version of events, they were easily ignored. Who you going to believe, a hero cop or people who back a dead woman?

But Jennings wasn’t done yet.

Jennings created the Facebook page “Justice for Patricia Cook” on April 23. The About section reads, “Please consider joining our community, encouraging justice for the unarmed 54 year old woman who was shot by a Culpeper Police Officer, under questionable circumstances.” Beneath that description are the following questions: “What if it was your wife? What if it was your mother, sister, daughter? Would you be willing to sit quietly and say nothing? What if you pulled the trigger? Wouldn’t you want to see justice?”

Regional media, including the Washington Post, picked up the story, and miraculously, the Fauqier County special prosecutor convened a grand jury.

Yesterday,  one ex-cop’s world crashed :

Former Culpeper Town Police Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright was found guilty Tuesday on three charges — including voluntary manslaughter — in the shooting death of a woman in the parking lot of a Catholic school last year.

Most of the time, both the posts at SJ and the comments are negative, enough so that they might make people feel hopeless.  James Jennings refused to be hopeless, to give up.  He didn’t bomb the police station or scream wild-eyed threats; he persisted in demanding accountability, and rallied other, like-minded locals, to his cause. 

The good people of Culpeper prevailed, and a cop who killed a resident was convicted.  Don’t give up hope, and don’t quit. We may not win much, but if we don’t persist, we will never win.

H/T FritzMuffKnuckle

8 comments on “The Good People of Culpeper

  1. FN

    Unfortunately, today a judge decides if a mistrial is to be declared because they found two dictionaries and a thesaurus in the jury room. [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    Apparently two words were looked up “malicious” and “malice” and from those definitions jurors voted to convict for the LESSER of two possible convictions.

  2. Rogier

    Are you kidding me? The jury recommended a jail term of three years. THREE YEARS. This cop lied. Completely made up what had happened that made him shoot Patricia Cook to death. Witnesses disproved his story. She wasn’t a scofflaw. He didn’t have his arm caight in her car window. Fuck knows why he did what he did. Probably had a bad day, or a bad case of You Will Respect My Authori-TAY.

    So he commits manslaughter, and he lies about what he did, all boldfaced and arrogant and cocksure, but you know something? He had a badge. So then it’s not really that bad. We’ll just treat him with kid gloves. Thanks you for your service, officer.

    Can you fucking IMAGINE what the sentence would have been if the role of perp and victim had been reversed? If some civilian had shot a cop under similar circumstances and then lied about it to save his skin? That person would be branded a cop killer; and that person’s life would be OVER, either because of a jail sentence of 25 to life, or because of a death penalty verdict.

    Cops are above the law. They mouth pieties about it, and about societal order, but none of that shit truly applies to them. If, for a change, the court system and the fucking sheep on the jury hold cops accountable for something as patently outrageous as the cold-blooded killing of Patricia Cook, the boys in blue don’t get the chair — they get their wrists slapped. Only if we’re lucky, of course.

    THREE FUCKING YEARS, the jury says. If that doesn’t destroy whatever shred of confidence you still had in American justice, I don’t know what will.

  3. SHG

    Breath. Breath. No, three years isn’t close to enough. But it beats being cleared, which was far more likely the outcome.

  4. Frank

    Sadly, the fact that he got any jail time at all is major news. I just hope the judge doesn’t reduce the sentence down to time served or make the sentences concurrent.

  5. James Jennings

    Thank you for your kind words. While the outcome of the criminal trial didn’t rise to what we had hoped, it was still a move in the right direction. In most cases of police misuse of force, there isn’t even an indictment, so this was a victory, even if it was a small one. We still have the upcoming civil trial, which we hope will bring some accountability to the town leadership who looked the other way and, to this day, has refused to take any steps to remedy the environment which allowed this injustice to occur. I understand the impulse to react in anger when things like this happen, but I firmly believe that real change only happens when we show restraint and respond to evil with wisdom and truth. God bless you. If you are interested, our Facebook Page “Justice for Patricia Cook” is still up and will remain up until after the civil case has completed.

Comments are closed.