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Harmon-Wright charged with murder in Culpeper

The release from the Virginia State Police hit late last Tuesday evening as Fauquier County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Fisher held a press conference at the Virginia State Police office in Culpeper.

Daniel Harmon-Wright, the Town of Culpeper police officer involved in the fatal shooting of Patricia A. Cook on the morning of Feb. 9 has been charged with murder.

The special investigative grand jury indicted Harmon-Wright late Tuesday. Harmon-Wright ,32, of Gainesville, has been charged with one count of murder, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in death and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Fauquier Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Fisher was appointed as special prosecutor to handle this case. Fisher called for the special grand jury in April in tandem with the ongoing investigation by the Virginia State Police.

By the first week of May, more than a dozen witnesses had appeared before the grand jury according to Fisher who initially thought their work would not be concluded until sometime in June.

Nearly a month later, with Harmon-Wright's indictment on May 29 Fisher commented that more than 45 witnesses had given testimony, they had received more than 100 separate exhibits in addition to reams of documentary evidence.

Harmon-Wright has been on administrative leave since the incident.

Tuesday evening, he turned himself in to Virginia State Police and is being held at the Fauquier County Adult Detention Center without bond. His bond status will be reviewed on June 8 in Culpeper County Circuit Court.

Reached Monday afternoon, Fisher said that there is a presumption against granting bail in an indictment for murder that has prevailed the last 5-10 years in the State of Virginia.

“I've been told that the defense may enter a motion at the bond hearing that Harmon be released from jail,” said Fisher. “That would be their goal...and their burden to show evidence to support that decision.”

Fisher emphasized that while evidence was presented to the special investigative grand jury, it was their decision to indict on the counts that they did.

Murder versus manslaughter?

“The grand jury deliberated in private,” said Fisher, “determining if there was sufficient evidence to support one indictment over another.”

Without going into any specifics in this case, Fisher explained in a general sense that murder is defined as the unlawful killing of another with malice while manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another in the heat of passion.

“There are also different forms within those definitions,” continued Fisher, “...involuntary manslaughter or criminal negligence.”

“The grand jury had to sort through these and pick one,” said Fisher. “It's possible that the judge could instruct them that the indictment for murder should be for manslaughter.”

Fisher elaborated that while Harmon-Wright has been indicted, it's too soon to know if the case will go to trial or whether Harmon-Wright's attorneys will attempt a plea agreement.

“Thousands of cases come through the court system...attorneys evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their positions...my feeling is that we're on the heels of the indictment,” said Fisher. “We're in a phase [called discovery] where the defense is entitled to certain evidence that has been gathered during the special grand jury investigation.”

While not commenting whether he has spoken directly with them, Fisher acknowledged that he knows both of Harmon-Wright's attorneys: Daniel L. Hawes from Broad Run who believes that Harmon-Wright's use of deadly force was justified and Julia Judkins, an attorney with Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath and Judkins, out of Fairfax. Judkins was appointed to represent Harmon-Wright by the Virginia Municipal League, the insurance carrier for the Town of Culpeper.

“People need to put themselves in my client's position...there should be no rush to judgment.”

“I'm very confident in Virginia's judicial process...it works very well,” said Judkins.

For Fisher, he readily admits that for him, this is not the normal process.

“I'm used to working with them [law enforcement]...this is counter-intuitive for me, not the normal scenario,” said Fisher.

“It's a sad case all the way around...you have a woman killed...and an officer...when he woke up that morning didn't intend to go and commit murder...but found himself in circumstances that escalated unnecessarily beyond his circumstances to control.”

“I'm a prosecutor that is used to working with police but I have a job to do...there are no winners and no losers...it's grim and sad,” said Fisher.

Harmon-Wright's mother also indicated

Also on May 29, the Virginia State police released information that the special investigative grand jury also handed up three counts of uttering and three counts of forgery of public documents against Harmon-Wright's mother, Bethany P. Sullivan, 55, of Orange, Va. Through the course of the special grand jury's investigation into the shooting incident, evidence came to light concerning Sullivan's role in forging public records in an attempt to purge Harmon-Wright's personnel file of negative information. Sullivan was employed as an administrative secretary to the chief of police (Dan Boring at the time) of Harmon-Wright's hiring as a police officer.

Sullivan was employed by the Town of Culpeper police department from 2002 to 2010. According to Fisher, the dates that Sullivan attempted to alter information are not related to the shooting incident.

Sullivan was taken into custody without incident late Tuesday night and released on an unsecured bond of $5,000 per count.

The special grand jury's indictment comes just a little over two weeks after a civil suit was filed May 11 by attorneys for Cook's husband, Gary Cook, in the amount of $5.3 million.

Mayor issues statement

The following statement from the Mayor of Culpeper, Chip Coleman, was released from the Town of Culpeper Public Information Officer, Wally Bunker, on May 29 following news of Harmon-Wright's indictments.

“We asked the Virginia State Police for an unbiased and thorough investigation into the Feb. 9, shooting incident involving Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright during which Patricia Cook died. We got that from the state police, who along with the special prosecutor Jim Fisher and a special grand jury comprised of local citizens, devoted countless hours to the investigation.

If the allegations brought forth in the grand jury indictments are proven to be true, we as elected and government employees are equally saddened and disappointed. We share in the community’s outrage and concern regarding the alleged action of this one officer.

We want the judicial process to run its course, while at the same time ask the community to join with us to help the healing process that requires all of us to work together so that your town can regain your trust.

It is important for us to realize that the alleged actions of one officer should not taint the hard work and dedicated efforts of the men and women who strive daily to protect our community and provide quality service to the public.

Due to Officer Harmon-Wright’s indictment, he was immediately suspended without pay.

Upon completion of an internal investigation, disciplinary action will be taken, if appropriate.”

Family of Patricia Cook issues statement

The following statement was released on May 30 from attorneys at MichieHamlett on behalf of the Cook family.

“We were pleased to learn of the Special Grand Jury’s actions last night, which we hope will lead to answers and justice. This indictment is an important early step in obtaining the answers we so desperately seek to help understand why Patty was taken from us. The efforts of the Special Grand Jury in investigating Officer Harmon-Wright’s actions and, in the process, delivering additional related indictments against his mother, are a perfect example of the power of the citizens of Culpeper to deliver unbiased, reasoned and deliberative justice. We are forever grateful to those eleven citizens for putting their lives on hold to so doggedly pursue the truth. We also thank Special Prosecutor Jim Fisher, the Virginia State Police, and other law enforcement and investigative personnel, whose tireless efforts provided the Special Grand Jury the tools necessary to do its work.

Finally, we want to make clear that we do not view the actions of Officer Harmon-Wright, or those alleged of his mother, as being reflective of police or law enforcement generally. The vast majority of those who serve our community do so honorably, and the actions of the few should not taint the dignity of the many. We are eager for the system to get to the bottom of Officer Harmon-Wright’s choices and actions on the morning of February 9th that resulted in our loss, and we look forward to obtaining answers and justice for Patty as the judicial system takes over.”

The shooting

On the morning of Feb. 9, Patricia A. Cook was fatally shot by a Town of Culpeper police officer later identified as 5-year veteran Daniel Harmon-Wright also known as Daniel Sullivan. He was hired Aug. 30, 2006.

Harmon-Wright had been called to the scene of a school parking lot on a “suspicious call” and allegedly found Cook sitting in a Jeep Wrangler.

While argumentative shouting was heard by witnesses , conflicting reports surfaced whether in the course of their argument, Harmon-Wright's arm was caught in the driver side window and/or whether he was dragged by the vehicle.

What is known is that several shots were fired resulting in Cook's death. The Jeep Wrangler came to rest hitting a telephone pole on North East Street just a block from Davis Street in Culpeper. Flowers have been attached to the pole since the incident from community residents sympathetic to the tragedy.
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