The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Culpeper officer’s job terminated
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
The Culpeper police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed woman earlier this year has been fired.
“Effective June 19, Daniel Harmon–Wright’s employment with the Culpeper Police Department was terminated,” town public information officer Wally Bunker said in a news release Thursday.
“This termination occurred after the completion of an internal affairs investigation into the matter of the shooting of Patricia Cook.”
The five-year veteran was initially placed on routine administrative leave with pay following the Feb. 9 shooting incident that left the 54-year-old Cook dead.
Harmon–Wright, 32, was then suspended without pay in late May after a special grand jury indicted the officer on charges of murder, 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.
Cook was shot through the driver-side window while sitting in her Jeep Wrangler at the Epiphany Catholic School annex on East Street. Police had been summoned to the school parking lot on a “suspicious persons” report.
The initial two shots didn’t kill the woman, according to testimony at Harmon–Wright’s arraignment. Instead, she died either from a shot to the back of her head or a bullet that severed her spine and penetrated her heart, special prosecutor Jim Fisher said.
Harmon–Wright fired seven rounds—five while Cook was driving away—at the woman during the incident, Fisher told the court.
Harmon–Wright told investigators that Cook rolled up his hand in her window and then started driving away.
At least one eyewitness has contradicted his version of what happened, saying the officer’s hand was not trapped in the window.
The officer had responded to a “suspicious person” call from the preschool staff, and a confrontation with Cook reportedly took place.
State police, who initially investigated the incident, issued a statement the day after the shooting saying that Cook had rolled up her car window, which caught the officer’s arm and caused him to be dragged.
Cook’s husband said later that the Jeep had no power windows.
Other aspects of that initial state police statement also quickly came into dispute.
A witness in a nearby house said he saw Harmon–Wright with his service pistol in one hand and his other hand on the Jeep Wrangler’s door handle.
The witness also stated that he heard Harmon–Wright yell, “Stop or I’ll shoot!” twice and then saw him fire point blank through Cook’s driver’s-side window as she drove away.
Sources have said that Cook was struck in the head.
The witness said Harmon–Wright, an Iraq War veteran, continued to fire his weapon as Cook’s vehicle rolled slowly south on East Street before finally coming to a stop against a utility pole.
Cook was struck several times, according to sources, and pronounced dead at the scene.
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.
Harmon-Wright, 33, pleaded not guilty earlier this month.