Jury deliberates manslaughter case against Liberty police officer

March 14, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LIBERTY - A Casey County jury was still deliberating late Saturday night the fate of a police officer who shot and killed a man in his mother's kitchen.

Leo Daniel "Danny" Cook Jr. is accused of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Leon Brown, 52, of Liberty on July 30, 2003. Cook, 40, shot Brown while trying to arrest him on suspicion of domestic violence against his girlfriend, Freda Wilson.

Cook, a 12-year police veteran, was indicted on the manslaughter charge by the Casey County grand jury Oct. 17. He faces five to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Over the objections of Cook's attorney, Steve Schroering of Louisville, Circuit Court Judge James G. Weddle instructed jurors Saturday that they also could consider the lesser charge of reckless homicide, which carries a penalty of one to five years in prison.


In testimony Friday and Saturday, the jury heard that the Liberty Police Department was called to Wilson's apartment on Trammel Street, which she shared with Brown and her four children, five times that day beginning in afternoon. On the sixth and final call, Cook chased a drunken Brown into his mother's house across the street from Wilson's, struggled trying to arrest him and shot him when he said he felt his life was in danger.

Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Wright, however, argued that Cook was grossly mistaken in his judgment of the situation and was unjustified in shooting Brown.

"Leon Brown had done nothing to put Danny Cook's life in danger," he said.

Schroering told the jury that Cook reacted exactly as he was trained as a police officer.

"The last thing Danny Cook had on his mind when he went on duty at 10 o'clock was to take somebody's life," Schroering said.

Cook is a 12-year police veteran who testified he had never fired his weapon before shooting Brown.

"If he was a cowboy who didn't care about others this would have happened a long time ago, but it didn't," Schroering said.

Little dispute about the facts in the case

There was little dispute about the facts in the case. Brown, who had a lengthy police record, was shot after a day of drinking and fighting with Wilson. Sgt. Joey Miller of the Liberty Police Department testified Friday he was called to Wilson's apartment, which she shared with Brown and her four children, five times that day beginning in afternoon. He twice advised Wilson to get an emergency protective order against Brown, but she did not.

Miller testified Brown was obviously intoxicated, but lucid, each time he contacted him. He also said Brown was not a danger.

In his testimony Saturday, Cook told of a chaotic situation that quickly spun into a life-or-death crisis. His account of the shooting was virtually identical to his recorded statement to Kentucky State Police investigators the day after it happened and his taped testimony before the Casey County grand jury in October, both of which were played in court.

At 10:02, one of Wilson's children called 911. On the open line the dispatcher could hear Brown cussing, Wilson screaming, and children yelling, "Please don't hit my mommy." Cook was on duty for his 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. He was just finishing a briefing with Miller, who told him about his visits to Wilson's apartment on Trammel Street. Cook radioed, "I'll take care of it," and sped off to Trammel Street.

Turning onto the street, Cook said, he saw Brown in the parking lot of Wilson's apartment building. As he drew close to Brown, he ordered him to stop, but Brown continued to his mother's house across the street. Cook then chased Brown into Dorothy Brown's home.

Once inside, Brown bolted for the kitchen, said Cook, who testified he immediately saw two knives on the kitchen counter. He ordered Brown to stop and go outside with him, but said Brown told him, "I ain't going with you."

Cook, who is 5-feet-10 and 232 pounds, tried to subdue Brown with a wrist lock, but the 6-feet-4, 300-pound man broke free and moved over to the kitchen sink. Brown faced the sink, Cook said, and then turned to look at two paring knives that were on the counter to Brown's left. Cook then gave Brown a sustained blast of pepper spray in the eyes, but Brown didn't appear to be affected, Cook said.

He testified he repeatedly told Brown to "show me your hands"

After Brown turned back toward the sink, he suddenly spun to his right and threw a dinner plate "like a Frisbee" at Cook, the officer said. Ducking, Cook was hit in the shoulder and the plate rolled down the hall and broke. Brown turned back to the sink, said Cook, who testified he repeatedly told Brown, "Show me your hands." The officer then pulled out his Glock 40 semiautomatic handgun.

"I had no clue what was in his hand," Cook said. Cook testified he saw Brown look at the knives again, then spin around "explosively." When Brown faced him, Cook said, he fired once and hit Brown in the middle of his torso. "That was it," he said. "I was in fear for my life," he said.

On cross examination by Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Wright, Cook conceded that Brown made no verbal threats, merely cussed the officer and said he wasn't going with Cook. He also testified he never saw Brown reach for the knives and shot him knowing he had no knife. Another plate, he said, would have been sufficient for deadly force.

"A dinner plate is not a deadly weapon," Wright said.

Schroering, however, said Cook acted exactly as he had been trained. Brown, he said, chose to drink, resist arrest and assault Cook.

"When you make bad choices, sometimes bad things happen," said "Every choice he made that day was based on alcohol and anger," he said. In contrast, he said, "The choices Danny Cook made were not made on anything other than his training as a police officer."

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