Police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright shot a 54-year-old woman to death in Culpeper, Virginia, a year ago. Her name was Patricia Ann Cook. Mr. Harmon-Wright claimed he had no choice, because in some unlikely altercation, she rolled up the window of her idling car, trapping his arm. And then she hit the accelerator, he says, and she was dragging him. It was his life or hers. He did what he had to do.
None of that was true. Witnesses disproved Wright’s story. Fuck knows why he did what he did. Probably had a bad day, or a bad case of You Will Respect My Authori-tah.
It wasn’t the first time Wright got in trouble. He had a history of drinking and aggressive behavior.
His mom, Bethany Sullivan, who worked as a secretary for the police department, falsified Wright’s personnel record, attempting to cleanse it of previous stains. She got caught, too. That was encouraging, at least. This was one instance of police brutality that didn’t get swept under the rug.
Wright stood trial last month. The jury didn’t believe him — no one with any knowledge of the situation did — and voted to convict. So far, so unusual.
But then, yesterday, that same jury recommended a jail term of three years. Three years!
Wright commits manslaughter, and he lies about what he did, all bald-faced and arrogant and cocksure — but you know what’s next. He had a badge. So then it’s not really that bad, is it? We’ll treat him with kid gloves. Thanks for your service, officer.
Can you imagine what the sentence would have been if the role of perp and victim had been reversed? If, under similar circumstances, some civilian had put a bullet into a cop’s heart, and then lied about it to save his own skin? Even without the perjury charge, that person wouldn’t just be branded a cop killer all over the media; that person’s life would be over, either thanks to a jail sentence of 25 to life, or because of a death penalty verdict.
But cops, as we see time and again, are above the law. They mouth pieties about it; they claim that only they stand between us and all manner of deadly riff-raff; but for the thousands upon thousands of revenge-fantasy bullies and trigger-happy cowboys among them, that’s as far as it goes. It’s just pretty words. They are the deadly riff-raff.
If, for a change, the court system and the awed 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. But only if we’re lucky, of course.
In this case, we got lucky. Justice was served. Or was it?
Four additional fun facts:
1. Patricia Cook’s widower, Gary, filed a $5.35 million wrongful-death lawsuit against Wright in May 2012.
2. By the summer, Cook’s attorneys were looking into expanding the lawsuit to include Culpeper police chief Chris Jenkins and former chief Dan Boring, now a Culpeper Town Councilman.
3. In September, officers of the Culpeper PD found Gary Cook’s body in his apartment.
4. The Medical Examiner in Manassas, Virginia, said Gary Cook died of natural causes. Cook was 62.
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.