The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Lawsuit filed in Culpeper police shooting
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
The husband of a Culpeper woman who was shot and killed by a town policeman Feb. 9 has filed a $5.35 million wrongful death suit against the officer involved.
Gary D. Cook is asking that he be awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and another $350,000 in punitive damages from Officer Daniel W. Harmon–Wright, also known as Daniel W. Sullivan.
The suit was filed three days before a special investigative grand jury met for a second time in an effort to determine the facts in the controversial and high profile case.
The suit claims that the 54-year-old Patricia A. Cook was “shot multiple times without just cause or excuse” and that “defendant Harmon–Wright’s actions constituted willful and wanton misconduct.”
J. Gregory Webb and Kevin W. Ryan of the Charlottesville law firm of Michie Hamlett Lowry Rasmussen and Tweel are representing the plaintiff.
Patricia Cook was sitting in her Jeep Wrangler in the Epiphany Catholic School annex on North East Street shortly before 10 a.m. on Feb. 9 when Harmon–Wright, a five-year veteran of the town police force, responded to a suspicious person call.
According to the lawsuit, Harmon–Wright approached Cook’s vehicle on foot and “spoke to her in an aggressive and demanding manner.” Cook “had not committed any criminal act [and] she was not engaged in any criminal activity,” the suit says. It adds that “she was unarmed and posed no physical threat to the defendant.”
The suit says that Cook began rolling up her manually-operated window when “Harmon–Wright spoke to her in a loud, argumentative, aggressive and demanding manner” and that the 33-year-old officer “threatened to shoot Mrs. Cook if she did not stop rolling up her car window.”
The suit alleges that the officer “did not have probable cause to arrest Mrs. Cook nor did he have a reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed or was about to be committed by her.”
Further, the suit says that the officer, whose cruiser lights were not activated, had no right to detain Cook and that she did not roll Harmon–Wright’s hand up in the window as a Virginia State Police press release the following day stated.
It says that the officer had one hand on his weapon and the other on the door, not in the vehicle.
“Had he reached into Mrs. Cook’s Jeep, defendant would have been violating his training and basic police procedure,” the suit states.
It adds that Harmon–Wright was not being dragged when “he shot her at close range and continued firing at her as she attempted to depart.”
Aerial TV footage of police bullet casing locations indicates that at least four more shots were fired, some apparently striking the woman, as she drove south up East Street before slowly crashing into a utility pole. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The suit says that Cook was within her right to drive away under the circumstances.
“When defendant Harmon–Wright attempted to bully and coerce Mrs. Cook into complying with his commands by raising his voice and threatening to shoot her, she was lawfully entitled to refuse to comply [and] to depart unharmed and unhindered under the circumstances then and there existing.”
It adds that, “In Virginia, a police officer has no right to inflict serious bodily harm on a person who is simply fleeing arrest for a misdemeanor, much less a person who has committed no crime and who is simply exercising her right to decline to speak with a police officer.”
Harmon–Wright, whose name still has not been officially released by the police department, was placed on routine administrative leave following the incident. It has been reported that he has since resigned, but police officials would not confirm this.
Chief Chris Jenkins could not be reached for comment yesterday. Mayor Chip Coleman said that because the suit does not involve the town, he would make no comment.