The husband of a Culpeper, Va., woman who was shot to death by a police officer in February filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer.
Patricia Cook, 54, was shot multiple times during a confrontation with Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright as she sat, unarmed, in her Jeep in a Catholic school parking lot.
A special investigative grand jury recently began hearing from witnesses to help it determine whether the shooting was justified or whether the officer should face criminal charges.
But a lawyer for Gary Cook, the victim's husband, said the widower is frustrated by the pace of the process. "We are growing a bit impatient with the process, so we decided to move forward with the civil case, a wrongful death suit, and see what we can learn on our own," explained Charlottesville attorney Gregory Webb. "Something smells, and we are trying to get to the bottom of it."
Shortly after the Feb. 9 shooting, Virginia State Police said the officer fired his weapon when Cook rolled her Jeep window up on his arm, drove off and began dragging him.
But an eyewitness has told News4 and Cook's lawyers a different story, saying the officer had one hand on the door handle and another on his gun. Webb said Cook posed no threat to the officer. "She had a manual, roll-up window -- the old crank kind," Webb said. "To catch one's arm in that, from a common sense standpoint, doesn't make sense to me."
In the lawsuit, Cook's attorneys wrote:
"Contrary to what has been claimed and reported, Defendant Harmon-Wright did not have his hand or arm trapped inside the car window or Mrs. Cook's Jeep at any time during this incident. Had he reached into Mrs. Cook's Jeep, the Defendant would have violated his training and basic police procedure. In addition, Defendant Harmon-Wright was not dragged by Mrs. Cook's vehicle."
Webb pointed out that the officer was not injured. He called the shooting an example of "excessive force" and accused Harmon-Wright of "gross negligence." Webb told News4, "Certainly now it looks like she was in the process of driving away and the officer opened fire. "
Gary Cook's lawyers also made an interesting discovery about the officer. They say he has an alias, Daniel W. Sullivan, and so the wrongful death suit lists both names. "It did strike me as a bit odd," said Webb. "There may be a legitimate reason. I'll be interested to explore that. "
The suit seeks more than $5 million in damages.
A spokesman for the town of Culpeper said the police officer remains on administrative leave with pay. The special prosecutor overseeing the investigative grand jury said he hopes the group will finish its work by the end of June.