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The investigation into Harmon-Wright likely would have gone forward regardless of Jennings' creation of a Facebook page. It probably would have even concluded in his indictment without pressure from the media. This is, for instance, Sherman's take. "As far as Jennings Facebook page, he has caused quite a stir with it dividing many in the community and forcing them to take sides," she wrote in an email to Reason. "I wouldn’t give him credit for pushing the process forward. It has moved at its pace and can be perceived as moving slowly or expeditiously depending on your perspective."
But there's more to the Patricia Cook story than just one woman's senseless killing. Everyone in town, and out, now knows that Harmon-Wright was hired despite objections from within the Culpeper P.D., and that he had a history of harassing Culpeper residents that his superiors failed to address. As a result, a conversation is happening in Culpeper about government transparency and police accountability. It's fair to say the town would still be shrouded in silence if Jennings hadn't spoken up in support of the Cook family, including Gary Cook, Patricia's devastated husband.
“There is a fear of speaking up or speaking out against authority,” says Jennings, who isn’t done making noise. Now he wants the chief of police in Culpeper to hold a public post-mortem explaining why Harmon-Wright was hired despite objections from within the department.
“We should discuss, you know, what went wrong, and if anything related to procedures or hiring policies, things like that, contributed to the shooting,” Jennings told me. “Every professional position I’ve ever worked in, when you have [a mistake], you try to step in afterwards and figure out what went wrong. Is it human error or what? And so far they just flatly denied or refused to do anything.”
With every media outlet in Virginia watching Culpeper closely, Jennings just might get what he wants, and what Culpeper plainly needs.
*This article originally confused the Star-Exponent and the Culpeper Times.
Mike Riggs is an associate editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter.