Culpeper silence: Citizens, top cop slam shooting inquest

Three months after a Culpeper police officer gunned down an unarmed woman and despite an official explanation that has been contradicted by at least two witnesses, there's still no action. Frustration has grown so intense that about 500 citizens have signed a petition, and now Central Virginia's leading law enforcer is speaking out about the case and its allegedly slow pace.

"What I've heard about it stinks,"says Albemarle Sheriff Chip Harding.

A former Charlottesville police captain who gained a national reputation in DNA technology, Harding says that 80 percent of a police shooting investigation typically occurs in the first five or six hours. Here, the State Police, aside from issuing a pair of press releases essentially blaming the victim, have released little– even denying multiple requests for the name of the officer in question.

Harding says that normal procedure when an officer engages in deadly force is for the police administration to release his name. It's okay, says Harding, for a chief to support the officer who goes on administrative leave with pay while the matter is investigated.

While the town of Culpeper steadfastly refuses to identify the officer, other sources have filled that information void. The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg cites two unnamed officers confirming that the shooter's name is Daniel Harmon-Wright.

Moreover, the newspaper reports that the 33-year-old Harmon-Wright has previously used other names. On Facebook, he goes by "Dan Wayne," a graduate of James Madison High School in Vienna, the paper reports. More curiously, the five-year veteran of the Culpeper P.D., also a veteran of the U.S. Marines, previously lived in Fauquier where he was known as Daniel Sullivan.

Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins did not return a phone call from the Hook seeking confirmation that Harmon-Wright is Sullivan and the shooter– and why the officer might tamper with his own surname.

The controversy began the morning of February 9 after a report of a suspicious person in the parking lot of Epiphany Catholic School at Precious Blood Catholic Church. A school staffer had observed a female walk around the school building and then return to her car in the parking lot, says Michael Donohue, spokesman for the Diocese of Arlington.

"The employee thought that was unusual and asked her to leave," says Donohue. "She refused, and they called police. The police officer asked her questions, and she refused to answer."

School administrators heard gunshots, and the school, says Donohue, went into lockdown.

In a State Police release issued the day after the shooting, the unidentified police officer alleges that 54-year-old Patricia Cook "closed her driver's side window, trapping the officer's arm."

Maybe it happened that way. However, one television news interview with her grieving husband indicates that Cook, a volunteer Sunday school teacher, was driving a Jeep Wrangler equipped with hand-cranked windows. Equally unhelpful to the officer's story was a witness, a nearby house-painter named Kristopher Buchele, who indicated that the officer had one hand on the Jeep's door handle and another on his gun as Cook drove out of the parking lot. He's quoted many times including on WJLA channel 7:

"I could hear him tapping the glass with the gun telling her to 'stop or I'll shoot.'"

Buchele indicates that the officer then unloaded five or six rounds into Cook's Jeep which eventually came to rest against a utility pole. Cook was pronounced dead at the scene, and WJLA cites another alleged witness, Greg Andrews, whose account "mirrors" that of Buchele.

The matter remains under investigation, according to State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller. As for why the investigation has entered its fourth month, Geller is unapologetic.

"Investigations are complex and include multiple variables, lab analysis, interviews, etc." says Geller. "The Virginia State Police never puts time limits or constraints on an investigation, as that would endanger the process and thoroughness required to properly conduct it."

The shooting is the latest black-eye for Culpeper, where a judge recently found that officials engaged in "outrageous misconduct" to convict a young man named Michael Hash of capital murder in the 1996 killing of Thelma Scoggins. Hash was released on unsecured bond March 14, two days after embattled Culpeper Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close resigned over his handling of the case.

Sheriff Harding was instrumental in Hash's release, and he's troubled by more than just the lack of action after Cook's shooting.

"Why are you sticking your arm in a car window anyway?" he wonders about Harmon-Wright's story.

James Fisher, the Commonwealth's Attorney for neighboring Fauquier County, has been named special prosecutor and called for the assistance of a special grand jury. While Fisher did not immediately return a phone call from a reporter, Harding applauds the move and notes a special grand juries can subpoena witnesses.

"It's a great tool to get people to say things they wouldn't otherwise," says Harding. "It's also a way to take political heat off the prosecutor."

In April, Culpeper resident James Jennings, frustrated over the lack of information, launched an online petition that he wants to send to the special prosecutor. So far, he's gathered about 500 names.

"When I heard the news, I thought something didn't sound right– a woman who hadn't even had a speeding ticket gets shot [multiple] times by a police officer," says Jennings, who says he didn't know Cook. In addition to the online petition, he has created a Facebook page for people who felt "things went terribly wrong that day."

"I'm putting myself in the middle of a hornets' nest," admits Jennings, who says he's been bullied by some who are angry that he's asking questions. And he emphasizes that he's not assuming the killing was unjustified– that he just wants to know what happened.

Jennings says he was formerly a systems engineer and that when something went wrong, there was always a post-mortem to figure it out and avoid repeating the mistake. In the Cook case, he says, "From day one, there's been a reluctance to do that."

His fear is that the special grand jury will find the shooting justified, seal the records, and the public will never know what happened.

"They need to explain why this was justified," says Jennings. "We're not asking for anything unreasonable. We just want to make sure the system works.

"This secrecy does more to harm to police than help them," Jennings adds. "People are afraid to come to Culpeper."

On May 11, Patricia Cook's husband, Gary D. Cook, filed a lawsuit against against Harmon-Wright seeking $5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

–this story was updated on May 14 with word that Cook's husband was suing.

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I'm glad to see Harding speak out on this killing. I felt I was the only cop, ex-cop, or retired cop that felt this whole thing stinks to high heaven. Culpeper wants to drag this event out as long as possible thinking the public will eventually forget about it or not even care about the results of the investigation. If this had been a husband-wife domestic shooting, the husband would have been in jail without bond immediately.

If the cop's hand was ever caught in the window..... and that seems to be a big IF..... the threat to his life was over once his arm was free. Why did he follow Mrs Cook up the street on foot emptying his firearm in the direction of her vehicle? Not only can this not be justified, it placed the entire neighborhood in grave danger!!!

@Gasbag - I'm in complete agreement with you on this one.

Just insane. There is a curtain amount of restraint trained into every officer and Marine I know of and though there are the rare incidents - even those the individual was investigated and jailed sooner than 4 months later.

Something absolutely stinks in Culpeper and it isn't from the farms it is from the Police Department and Government. Compared to how they handle issues like this in Charlottesville and Albemarle? I'm just shaking my head here.

But why are we hearing from the Albemarle County sherriff on this? This is about culpeper, right?

Great story. It's an outrage that there isn't far more public pressure on the town and state officials in this case, to drop the secrecy routine and disclose the investigation results.

I've been to Culpeper since this shooting and I have to say, the idea of being wary of loose-cannon cops did cross my mind while I was there.

Also, good on Sheriff Harding for being willing to call out people who'd probably prefer to hide behind the blue wall.

Here is the link to the Petition asking for justce for Patricia Cook.. please sign and share :

Also another new channel story:

Here is the link to the Petition asking for justce for Patricia Cook.. please sign and share :
Also another new channel story:

@Dang, because if you read the article, they wouldn't comment or repond. Of course, Culpeper isn't going to out one of their own! And there is - unfortunately a code with all police forces, even if they are in the wrong or covering up, not to comment. Harding has proven he isn't one of the "good ol' boyz" and has established a name for himself separate from those "clicks". (Kudos to him for doing so.) I imagine Gasbag wasn't one that fell into those clicks either - it makes for frustrated but very good officers out there. (They are not normally those that get promoted or into positions of authority.) All about politics.

I hope answers come out soon.

Correct, Cville Native! My career of decades in law enforcement went south when I became vocal in the community about a sheriff hiring and promoting his own son. I also became vocal about one sheriff after another only wanting the job so as to enhance their retirement benefits. They would sit around the office and calculate how the move to sheriff had increased their retirement benefits, as compared to them finishing their career in the Charlottesville Police Department. One passed away and never really enjoyed his enhanced retirement benefits, but the others still laugh all the way to the bank each month.

If I worked in Culpeper and knew anything about this killing, I guarantee it would be public knowledge. Darn the Thin Blue Line! Right is right, wrong is wrong. If a cop makes a mistake, he/she should be held just as accountable as an ordinary citizen!

Doesn't seem like a good idea for Harding to comment on this story.

And people shouldn't be judged by traffic tickets, or lack thereof. Maybe they just haven't gotten caught. Maybe the ones who have got caught multiple times were just unlucky multiple times.

Very grateful that Sheriff Harding has spoken out on this tragic shooting. Many of us in Culpeper have been fighting a culture of silence that wants us to just sit back and shut up. None of us knows exactly what happened that day, but the response to the shooting has done nothing but reinforce the perception that someone has been trying to cover up this shooting. Truth is an important thing, and sometimes people don't want the truth to come out. If the shooting was justified, then present all of the evidence, so that the people of Culpeper can have confidence in the system and can feel safe.

Harding has done some fine work politicking for DNA databases and exonerating the innocent. But this time he really has no business involving himself in an investigation in which he has little, if any, inside info no matter how much it seems to "stink". This was pontification for pontification's sake and I really did think he was better than that.

State Police Head of Propaganda (for lack of a more fitting title), Corinne Geller, sounds full of it to me: As for why the investigation has entered its fourth month, Geller is unapologetic. "Investigations are complex and include multiple variables, lab analysis, interviews, etc." says Geller. "The Virginia State Police never puts time limits or constraints on an investigation, as that would endanger the process and thoroughness required to properly conduct it." Really Corinne? Then please assure us that your ever-so-thorough civil servants took a drug and alcohol test of the killer, Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright, Dan Wayne, Daniel Sullivan, or whatever this cop calls himself these days. Was a drug and alcohol test performed within the first hour at the murder scene?

Pontificator, say what you will, but it's long overdue that law enforcement start questioing the actions of other law enforcement officers rather than throwing up the Thin Blue Shield of Immunity. The ole "hand stuck in the window" trick is well played out in this society. Especially when an eye witness says this is not the way the killing took place. More chiefs and sheriffs in Virginia need to follow Harding's lead. And I suspect Harding has a lot more insider information than you give him credit for.

Greg, you can't blame Corrine. She is a mouthpiece. She tells the media what she is directed to tell them. Otherwise she might find herself guarding the governor's dog for the rest of her career. She has a good job, good pay and benefits, and she will not risk it by saying, "Oh, I agree, we should have finished the investigation 6 weeks ago!"

@ Cville Native: You wrote: "There is a curtain amount of restraint trained into every officer and Marine.....".

So Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force have no restraint? I recall some Marines urinating on corpses in Afghanistan.

I am Pat Cook's brother, John Weigler. I thank God for the men and women of Culpeper taking a stand for my sister Pat. Her execution on the streets of Culpeper was a grievous crime committed by a man commissioned to protect and serve the community. Although we know nothing of the officer's medical report following the incident, I will tell you this. The shots killing Pat, according to the coroner's report, were delivered to the back of her head and neck. The silence of local police officials is paralyzing. The misguided words of the Virginia State Police initial press release are numbing. Where is the truth? Where is the explanation? Jesus said in John 8:32, " and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Is the truth in Governor McDonnell's office? Is the truth in D.C.? Where is President Obama on this one? I have appealed to both office's for Pat....Nothing! In John 14:6, Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me." In context, Jesus is telling those around him the He is the Messiah, and He came to restore our relationship to God the Father. In principle, Truth is the basis for every healthy human relationship. That could be husband to wife, father to son, boss to worker, brother to sister and even official to citizen. In this case, a life was taken unjustly from a citizen. The truth in the crime is withheld and the criminal protected because he is in the uniform. It has been said, one measure of a society is how it treats it's women and children. Oh Culpeper, where do you stand?

It's a two way street, Reality Check. The naked and charred bodies of American soldiers were put on public display by hanging them from bridges in Afghanistan first.

Mr. Weigler, I'm very sorry for the loss of this wonderful sister, wife, daughter, mother, co-worker, friend and Sunday school teacher. You have my prayers. More people than you might guess, around the world, are paying attention to this case. I live in Santa Clara, California and have been checking in on the case's progress every few months. There is a pattern in this country of police over-reacting when citizens simply disrespect them or assert their constitutionally protected rights. Too often, the victims are falsely charged with resisting arrest, beaten, or even stomped to death or shot. The officers receive paid vacations, seldom any charges, or when charged, are released at a fraction of their original sentence. You’ll also read many stories in the press lately, where gangs of black teens assault white people at fairs, beaches, public events and nothing is done. Gangs of them brazenly enter stores and go on a theft frenzy – none are arrested. Recently an Army soldier, whose car broke down, was attacked by a pack of these hyenas. Police are not even taking witness reports from the victims. Yet, when a Spanish male with a white sounding name defends his life against a 6’ tall black male who is cracking his head against a cub, it’s investigated by “Fast and Furious” Eric Holder as a federal hate crime. The people who become police typically have a high school diploma and little more. They lack the work ethic for construction jobs, the brains to be a clerk typist, or the people skills to be a Walmart door greeter, yet they can pull in $70,000 to start and over $200,000 with overtime, plus generous retirements with as little as 10 years of service, no tax payer can dream of these days. When one of them is killed, they’ll close down public highways for miles and hours for the funeral procession. I’ve read where taxi drivers have a much more dangerous job. Where are the 500 car funeral processions for them? You quotes of the Bible are well taken. I would quote this Ephesians 6:12 “For wee wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” God bless you and your entire family, and the many good police officers who defend our Constitution and serve the public to the best of their ability.

A pattern in this country of police over-reacting when citizens simply disrespect them or assert their constitutionally protected rights???? What do you think is causing it, Greg? I have my opinions, would be nice to hear the opinions of others.

This is just one of my few theories on this matter. The amount of 17 to 35 year old adults who sit around playing these "kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" video games have been hitting the streets as cops for the last 10 to 15 years. When challenged or backed against the wall with the adrenaline pumping, they develop tunnel vision and have trouble sorting reality from video. I often wonder if this cop in Culpeper felt this really couldn't be happening to him, and he went into video game mode. When you practice death and destruction in these video games on a daily basis, I often wonder how much of it bleeds over into reality when the stuff hits the fan unexpectantly out on the street??

GSOE you may very well have an excellent theory in your last comments. This could stink to high heaven no doubt. However these investigations do take time and Harding seems to forget that there was a shooting investigation during his tenure in the City which left 2 officers waiting for several months to return to the street after a complete investigation and grand jury. Still say he was pontificating on this one and had little to no business commenting on it.

Why is it taking so long for the authorities in Culpeper to simply tell the truth? If the vehicle's drivers side window was hand cranked all the way closed, the cop lied about his arm being trapped, and he should be sitting in a jail cell awaiting his trial by jury. Justice is being delayed, and justice is being denied in this case.

Good on Chip Harding. I'm glad to see the Blue Wall crumbling, even a little bit. If more good cops would critique their peers in public, this sociopathic cowboy crap would end. The only thing cops care about is the opinion of other members of their gang.

Interesting piece in the Culpeper Star Exponent this morning.

I am familiar with Culpeper's finest, and so is my wife, I call them gas gut hogs. Our car was totaled in Culpeper and the gut hog who responded was trying to get next to the she devil who ran across the parking lot at 50 mph into our car. With two witnesses standing by in the cold,the town gut hog ignored us all and did not issue her a ticket. We did get statements from the two witnesses and provided them to our Ins co. I could relate other atrocities from Culpeper's finest gut hogs nut nuff said.

Why is the State Police obviously lying about/for the atrocity commited by this gas gut from the Culpeper town police.

Roy Price, it's happening everywhere. A car parts delivery person ran a red light and broadsided my wife's car a few years ago, even though there was 3 witnesses to his running the red light and causing the crash. The city cops here in Charlottesville refused to charge anybody. They seem to think it's easier to leave it on the civil side of the court and let the insurance companies fight it out. We all know that's not the way it works though. My insurance had to pay for the damages to my car. The other driver had a few more dents in his piece of junk delivery truck and suffered no consequences for his actions at all.

A little over a month ago, I created the Facebook page and petition, calling for full transparency in this case. The city has made it clear that they side with the officer and will protect themselves from the lawsuit, which Mr Cook has filed, by using their insurance to provide the officer with a civil attorney, even before criminal charges have been filed. Our tax dollars at work. We’ve received nearly 1,000 signatures on our petition and helped to keep the discussion alive in our community ( and hopefully shine a light on the behind closed doors approach that has been the standard since February 9. ) I’ve been publicly insulted and criticized by some for “not keeping this local”. Well, I am local, and I was the only willing to take a stand and say “When a police officer shoots an unarmed woman, in the back, while she driving away in sheer terror, isn’t it reasonable to expect a fair and open trial?” Doesn’t seem all that radical a proposition to me. This should make all decent people stand up and say “Enough is enough.” If the Special Grand Jury decides to acquit the officer, and seal the evidence, instead of sending the case to trial, in open court, then a travesty of justice will have occurred and people should be outraged. If you agree that this case warrants its day in court, please go today and sign our petition. Mrs Cook was a decent and kind lady, and she can’t speak for herself. Please join me in speaking for her. Thank you.