The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Culpeper officer pleads not guilty in fatal shooting
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
The Culpeper police officer charged with murder in the Feb. 9 shooting death of an unarmed woman pleaded not guilty Friday and a judge set his bail at $100,000.
Defense attorney Daniel Hawes also told Judge Tim Sanner that he was filing a motion asking for a change in venue for the jury trial that 32-year-old Daniel Harmon–Wright requested.
In addition, Hawes, of Virginia Legal Defense, is petitioning the court for a “bill of particulars” from special prosecutor Jim Fisher regarding evidence in the high-profile case.
“I think some of the charges are duplicative,” said Hawes. “This is a double-jeopardy problem.”
In addition to murder, Harmon–Wright, a five-year veteran on the Culpeper town police force, is charged with malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
His actions resulted in the death of 54-year-old Patricia “Patty” Cook. More details regarding that incident, which began in the Epiphany Catholic School parking lot and spilled out onto North East Street, came to light during Friday’s hearing.
Fisher told the court that the two shots fired point-blank at Cook through the driver-side window glass of her Jeep Wrangler were not fatal.
Instead, either of two rounds Harmon–Wright fired (seven in all) while Cook, already wounded, drove off actually killed her, Fisher said. One smashed into her brain from behind and the other severed her spine and entered her heart and lungs, he said.
Hawes, however, painted a different picture of the incident, saying that Harmon–Wright was just “a cop doing his duty” and was shooting at “a fleeing felon.”
Harmon–Wright has insisted that Cook rolled his hand up in her window and that he felt threatened.
The Virginia State Police released a statement to that effect the day after the shooting, but retracted it on May 29, when a special investigative grand jury handed down the four-count indictment.
An eyewitness has said that Harmon–Wright had one hand on the door handle and his gun in the other hand as the situation unfolded shortly before 10 a.m.
Police had been summoned to the parking lot by a “suspicious person” call from the school.
“The defense’s version of the incident is a fantasy,” Fisher told the court in his arguments against bail. “Seven shots were fired. Somehow [Harmon–Wright] apparently thought that vehicle was going to put itself in reverse and do him harm.”
Fishier told the court that two members of the town police panel (a sergeant and a lieutenant) that interviewed Harmon–Wright in the summer of 2006 recommended that he not be hired because he had a history of alcohol abuse. A psychological evaluation at that time also indicated an alcohol-abuse problem, Fisher said.
Then-police Chief Dan Boring hired Harmon–Wright anyway. The new recruit’s mother, Bethany Sullivan, was Boring’s secretary.
Harmon–Wright, who testified in his own behalf, said he did not think he had an alcohol problem, although he admitted that he had been driving drunk three months prior to joining the police force and had been disciplined twice (Fisher said his record indicated four times) for fighting while intoxicated in the military.
He also acknowledged that he had been intoxicated at least once between the date of the shooting and yesterday. He said that incident of intoxication was stress related.
He admitted drinking and fighting while a Marine (both before and during a seven-month stint in Iraq), but said things changed when he got married in 2005 and became a police officer in 2006.
Fisher also referred to an incident in which Harmon–Wright allegedly became intoxicated and fired a gun at a tree.
Harmon–Wright told the court that he did not know how many rounds he had fired from his service pistol during the February shooting of Cook.
Fisher said that Harmon–Wright had been put on the “Brady List” because he had lied about the extent of an injury while at the police academy. That list must be made available to defendants against whom an officer on it might testify in court.
The special prosecutor further told the court that Harmon–Wright had been reprimanded for using excessive force exactly one month before shooting Cook.
That reprimand, the details of which have not been made public, stemmed from an October incident in which Harmon–Wright had “entered a home on Garr Avenue without a search warrant or probable cause,” Fisher said.
Hawes presented three witnesses intended to show that, if granted bail, Harmon–Wright would not be a danger either to himself of the public.
Brandon King, who served with Harmon–Wright (also known as Daniel Sullivan) in the Marines, called his friend “a consummate professional” who was “excellent at handling stressful situations.”
Under cross-examination from the special prosecutor, King said he was only speculating on a hypothetical situation when he told a state police investigator that Harmon–Wright “might not have been able to turn it off” when he stepped into the street and continued shooting at Cook’s vehicle.
Both Capt. Tim Chilton of the town police and state police Special Agent John Defilippi were noncommittal when asked if Harmon–Wright posed a danger to the public.
“I knew him very little outside the department,” Chilton said. Defilippi testified only that Harmon–Wright had been “cooperative” during the four-month investigation leading up to the charges.
In setting bail, Sanner said he was not worried about Harmon–Wright fleeing the area. But the judge said he was concerned about the officer’s drinking problem and ordered him not to use alcohol if released on bond.
Sanner also ordered that he not have any firearms in his possession. Harmon–Wright said he gave his four rifles and one pistol to a relative after the shooting incident.
At the request of the special prosecutor, Sanner ordered Harmon–Wright to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet to be provided by the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office. The defendant is being held in the Fauquier County Jail.
Sanner set July 24 as a hearing date for arguments on the change of venue and bill of particulars motions.
Harmon–Wright has been suspended from the police force without pay. Chilton was the only member of the town force who attended yesterday’s hearing.
Arraignment set for officer’s mother
Judge Tim Sanner set Aug. 28 as arraignment day for Bethany Sullivan, Daniel Harmon–Wight’s mother.
Sullivan, 55, of Orange, made her first appearance in court yesterday on three counts of uttering and three counts of forgery of public documents, all misdemeanors.
Sullivan, who is free on $5,000 bond, was then-police Chief Dan Boring’s secretary when her son was hired as a Culpeper town police officer in August 2006. The charges stem from documents related to his hiring.