Harmon-Wright pleads not guilty in Cook shooting

Daniel Harmon-Wright walked into the Culpeper County Circuit Courtroom shackled and chained Friday morning.

He left the same way but with his bail set at $100,000.

Facing a four count indictment in the fatal shooting of Patricia A. Cook, 54, on the morning of Feb. 9, Harmon-Wright, a five-year veteran with the police department, turned himself in on Tuesday, May 29 – the same day that the special investigative grand jury appointed by Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Fisher handed up their indictments.

Incarcerated in the Fauquier County Adult Detention Center since then without bail, Friday’s Circuit Count appearance was to determine if Harmon-Wright would be allowed to post bail pending trial.

Judge Timothy K. Sanner presided and when asked Harmon-Wright plead not guilty to the one count of murder, one count of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, one count of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in death, and one count of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Apprised of his options under Virginia Law, Harmon-Wright also requested that he be tried by a jury.

During the proceedings, Harmon-Wright’s attorney, Daniel L. Hawes, with Virginia Legal Defense, called three witnesses to testify on Harmon-Wright’s behalf.

Brandon King from Warrenton testified that he has known Harmon-Wright for 10 years. They previously served together in Iraq as Marines and later were together in a reserve unit.

“Dan’s a consummate professional,” said King, “and I’d have no concerns with his being in the community…I’d trust Dan with my life…it’s unfortunate to see him in this position.”

Capt. Tim Chilton of the Town of Culpeper police department said that he had no concerns with Harmon-Wright being released.

“I’ve know him for about 5 years,” said Chilton, “primarily as a member of the SWAT team.” When asked how he felt Harmon-Wright dealt with stress, Chilton replied. “I wouldn’t say that he was over or under zealous.”

John Defilippi, a special agent with the Virginia State Police assigned to this case, testified that Harmon-Wright “has been cooperative.”

Testifying on his own behalf, Harmon-Wright admitted to drinking but considered himself a “social drinker.” Other than traffic violations, he testified that he has never been convicted of a crime. He said firearms he did own have been given to a family member. Harmon-Wright enjoyed participating in Civil War re-enactments and several of those weapons were Civil War muskets. Harmon-Wright, 32, said that his life changed when he married in 2005.

“I became more responsible,” said Harmon-Wright who has a nine-month old son.

Special prosecutor Jim Fisher argued that Harmon-Wright not be granted bail.

“The defense’s version of what happened is a fantasy,” said Fisher.

Fisher pointed out Harmon-Wright’s history of alcohol related incidents including disciplinary actions when he was in the military.

He specifically cited evidence that in 2006 a sergeant and a lieutenant with the Town of Culpeper Police Department recommended that Harmon-Wright not be hired. A psychological evaluation revealed the same. In their minds, his alcohol abuse was an issue.

Their recommendation was overruled by then police chief Dan Boring.

Fisher also noted that Harmon-Wright was placed on the Brady List, a compilation of officers and deputies whose credibility is at question. That list must be shared with the defense in the event that an officer on that list is called for testimony.

Using excessive force was another troubling issue for Fisher as he pointed out an incident that occurred just a month prior to the Cook shooting.

Harmon-Wright had been reprimanded for using excessive force when he entered a residence on Garr Avenue in October 2011 “without a warrant or probable cause.” The details of this incident were not made public.

“Let’s look at the facts of this case,” said Fisher. “There were 7 shots fired.”

Fisher then described a scene where two shots were fired into the driver’s side of Cook’s Jeep Wrangler. As the vehicle pulls away, Harmon-Wright steps into the street advancing his position and firing five more times into the rear of the Jeep.

One of those bullets hits Cook in the back of the head. The other severs her spine and continues into the heart and lungs.

“This is intolerable to the community,” stressed Fisher who at one point questioned Harmon-Wright whether he thought Cook was going to put the vehicle in reverse to run him down.

Hawes beseeched Judge Sanner to grant bail and to set a reasonable amount.

“If it’s set too high, it’s the same as denying bail,” said Hawes.

“I do not believe that he poses a threat to himself or the community,” said Hawes, “the fact that he has a history of drinking to excess does not suggest that he will be a flight risk.”

“He was shooting at a fleeing felon that posed a threat to the community,” said Hawes.

Ultimately, Judge Sanner did grant bail in the amount of $100,000.

In so doing, he stated that he was not concerned with Harmon-Wright leaving the area as he could have done that earlier. Harmon-Wright does have family in California. Also, Harmon-Wright voluntarily turned himself in and has been cooperative throughout the investigation.

The judge was concerned about Harmon-Wright’s use of excessive force as a police officer and alcohol.

If Harmon-Wright is successful in posting bail, the judge listed criteria that must be followed.

There will be no use of alcohol or drugs, no possession of firearms, no working for any law enforcement agencies, no sharing of information with witnesses. In addition, if he changes residences, he must notify the court within 72 hours with a change of address.

Also, Harmon-Wright must report weekly to Culpeper’s Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program where he will be tested for alcohol or drug use.

Fisher further requested that as a condition of bail that Harmon-Wright also wear an electronic GPS monitoring device that could be provided by the Fauquier County’s Sheriff’s Office. Judge Sanner had no problem with this stipulation and added that Harmon-Wright would be responsible for any costs associated with this device.

Outside the courthouse on Friday, Fisher and Hawes were questioned by various members of the media.

Hawes stated that the community was safer with Harmon-Wright’s release. “He’s one of the most socially responsible people that I’ve ever met,” said Hawes.

“If I were his defense attorney, I’d be looking for a good bondsman,” stated Fisher.

Next court date

Harmon-Wright’s next appearance in Culpeper’s Circuit Court will be July 24 at 10 a.m.

This date was set by Judge Sanner and both attorneys agreed.

Hawes will be presenting two motions at that time.

“I will be submitting a motion for a change of venue,” said Hawes who would like to see Harmon-Wright’s trial take place in another county.”

Additionally, Hawes believes that his client could be in a double jeopardy situation with the current set of indictments and his second motion would deal with a bill of particulars.

Since Feb. 9, Harmon-Wright has been on administrative leave with pay.

Once the indictments were issued on May 29, Harmon-Wright has been suspended from the Culpeper Town of Police without pay.

Also indicted

Bethany Sullivan, Harmon-Wright’s mother, was also indicted on May 29 with three counts of forgery and three counts of uttering. Employed by the Town of Culpeper Police Department from 2002-2010 as an administrative secretary to the chief of police at the time of Harmon-Wright’s hiring, Sullivan is charged with tampering with Harmon-Wright’s personnel files in order to purge negative information.

Sullivan’s arraignment on these indictments will be Aug. 28 at 9:30 a.m.