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Witnesses: Officer’s arm wasn’t trapped in vehicle

RELATED: See more crime news from the Fredericksburg region

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

Two witnesses testified this morning that a Culpeper police officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman in a school parking lot last February did not have his arm trapped in the woman’s vehicle, as the officer maintains.

Daniel Harmon–Wright, 33, is on trial for murder in the Feb. 9 shooting death of 54-year-old Patricia Cook. The incident occurred after the officer responded to a call about a suspicious person parked outside the Catholic Epiphany School in downtown Culpeper.

Ann Schuyler, administrator of the school, said she called police about a woman in a Jeep Wrangler in the school parking lot and walked out onto the steps after an officer arrived.

Schuyler said the officer had one hand on the Jeep’s side mirror and another on his gun when he fired at the driver. She said she never saw him reach through the window.

Kris Buchele, who was working in a house next to the parking lot, testified that when he looked out a window after hearing yelling, he saw the officer’s hand on the door handle and on his gun. He said he never saw the officer reach through the window of Cook’s vehicle.

In a taped interview played in court Wednesday, Harmon–Wright told state police investigators Cook rolled up the window on his arm when he reached inside to get her license. He said he fired when she began driving away with his arm trapped inside.

Harmon–Wright, an  Iraq War veteran who had  been a Culpeper town  police man for five years, was fired  from his job after being  charged with murder in  Cook’s death.

Schuyler said after the first shots were fired, the car continued out of the parking lot onto East Street. The officer chased the car, she said, firing at it from about 15 to 20 feet behind.

Maria Garcia, testifying through a translator because she doesn’t speak English, said she was at a house across the street when she saw an officer chasing the car, firing shots from about 20 to 25 feet behind.

Adam Forester said he was in his garage on East Street near the school when he heard screaming so loud that at first he couldn’t make out the words. He said he eventually was able to make out, “Stop or I’ll shoot,” which was followed by multiple gunshots.

“It was like a drill sergeant yelling at a recruit—a command,” Forester said.

Forester said he then saw the Jeep roll past his house, about 30 to 40 feet away, hit a sign and then come to rest against a utility pole.

Brian Harris, a linen delivery driver, also said he saw an officer firing shots at the Jeep as he chased it down the street. Harris said he unbuckled his seatbelt and ducked down because the Jeep was coming toward his truck.

Dorian Twyman, who lives across street from the school, said he was studying for an exam when he heard screaming and went to the window. He testified that he heard the “f-word” twice, then heard someone yell in a high-pitched voice, “You’re not going to get away with this,” followed by four gunshots.

The prosecution rested its case in the afternoon, but was given approval by Judge Susan Whitlock to allow jurors to visit the scene of the shooting Friday morning.

Whitlock also granted a prosecution request to bar the defense from raising questions about Cook’s character, saying the defense must focus on what the officer knew and saw during the encounter with Cook.

 

 

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