Former Liberty police officer found not guilty in shooting death

June 11, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

COLUMBIA - After waiting nearly a year and sweating out two trials, former Liberty police officer Leo "Danny" Cook Jr. finally had his name cleared late Thursday night when an Adair County jury found him not guilty in last summer's shooting death of Leon Brown.

"It's an incredible relief for Danny. The past year has absolutely been a nightmare for him," said Cook's attorney, Steve Schroering of Louisville. "It's clearly nice for him to have a jury vindicate what he knew was correct all along."

Cook, 40, was indicted by a Casey County grand jury on a second-degree manslaughter charge after the officer shot and killed the unarmed Brown while trying to arrest him on a domestic violence charge on July 30 last year. Cook was dismissed from the force after being indicted.

Cook's first trial in March in Casey County ended in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked, ending 14 hours of deliberations with a 9-3 vote in favor of acquittal. Moving the second trial to neighboring Adair County where jurors had little or no knowledge of the case or its participants was crucial to the outcome, Schroering said.


"Changing the venue outside of Casey County was a benefit to Mr. Cook. We made sure nobody knew anyone involved and we had a level playing field," Schroering said.

There is a pending $16 million civil suit

Cook, his family and supporters shared a tearful celebration after the verdict was announced but were advised by Schroering not to comment about the case because of a pending $16 million civil lawsuit filed by members of Brown's family against Cook and the City of Liberty. Similarly, members of Brown's family who attended the two-day trial declined to discuss the case on the advice of their lawyers.

Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Wright said Brown's family members were "disappointed and saddened all over again" by the verdict. Wright said he felt compelled to prosecute Cook again, despite the outcome of the first trial, because of an obligation to the Brown family and the community.

"The only other option would have been to file a motion to dismiss it, and I didn't think that would be an appropriate decision for me to make unilaterally," he said. "There was an indictment in this case and I thought I owed it to people to go on."

Much of Thursday's testimony centered on Cook, who took the witness stand and matter-of-factly told jurors his version of events the night Brown was killed. Cook, who worked as an officer in Louisville before coming to Liberty in 2002, came across as a well-trained officer and said he had never fired his weapon in the line of duty in 12 years as a policeman - including "thousands of arrests and executing hundreds of high-risk search warrants" - until he shot and killed Brown. He didn't back away from his position that he was justified in using deadly force against Brown, even though he was unarmed.

"I was scared for my life,' he said. "I knew that the only option I had to live was to fire that shot."

Earlier testimony established that another Liberty police officer had been dispatched five separate times earlier in the day to calls involving Brown and his girlfriend, Freda Wilson. Brown had been drinking and belligerent toward Wilson and her children, witnesses said, but each time the officer responded to Wilson's apartment, Brown had retreated across Trammel Street to his mother's home. Though Brown was "highly intoxicated," he didn't appear to pose a danger to anyone, said Sgt. Joey Miller, who responded to the earlier calls involving Brown.

He had just gone on duty when sixth call from Wilson's residence came

Cook said he was dispatched to the sixth and final call from Wilson's residence two minutes after going on duty at 10 p.m. While en route to Wilson's apartment, a dispatcher told him an open phone line at Wilson's apartment revealed that "they could hear him hitting her and children screaming 'Stop hitting my mommy,'" Cook said. That information increased the urgency of his response, he said.

Upon arriving on Trammel Street, Cook said he saw Brown fleeing the apartment and heading across the street to his mother's house. The officer gave chase, following Brown inside the house while ordering him to stop and telling him he was going to jail. Brown didn't obey the commands and Brown and his mother, Dorothy Brown, shouted at Cook to get out of the house because he didn't have a warrant, the officer said.

"In my opinion, when you have a violent individual who is fleeing the scene of a crime, the safest thing for everyone involved, including Mr. Brown, is to take that person into custody," said Cook, adding that he was concerned Brown" might take his mother hostage or get a gun and barricade himself in the house and make the situation that much worse."

Inside the house, Brown - described as 6'4' and 300 pounds - twice overcame Cook's efforts to subdue him, including a blast of chemical spray directly into his face, Cook said.

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