Almost two years ago in Culpeper, Virginia, Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright shot and killed Patricia Ann Cook in a parking lot outside of a private school. That now former cop is serving three years in jail after being convicted of manslaughter for the killing of Cook. Cook's family also sought to bring a civil suit against Harmon-Wright for Cook's death, as well as against the former police chief, for wrongfully hiring Harmon-Wright, and the current police chief, for wrongfully retaining him. In a settlement reached between Cook's family and Culpepper, the claims against the police chiefs will be dismissed with prejudice, while an undisclosed amount will be paid for the claim against Harmon-Wright for wrongful death. The suit was originally brought by Cook's husband, against Harmon-Wright alone, but the husband died shortly after of natural causes, and the lawsuit was picked up by Cook's brother, who also added the claims against the two police officers. The family attorney, Greg Webb, explained why they chose to settle, via the Culpeper Star-Exponent:
"The family has devoted significant time and energy into trying to make sure that the important questions presented in this case were answered," Webb said. "However, a case like this carries a heavy human cost to the family, especially when those at fault refuse to acknowledge their role and fight every step of the way.
"Rather than allowing for closure and peaceful grieving, it requires continued revisiting of the horrific loss and turns the victims into targets themselves," the attorney said.
Pat Cook's mother, Mrs. Weigler, is nearly 76 years old and in poor health, Webb said.
Had the wrongful death suit in Cook's death been decided by a jury, "We are confident that the citizens of Culpeper would have recognized that though Harmon-Wright pulled the trigger [and] he was not the only one responsible for this tragedy," Webb said.
Several significant legal hurdles stood in the way of the cases against Jenkins and Boring, he added, so much so that it would have continued the civil litigation for years to come.
"The family believes that this settlement, at this time, is in their best interests, as well as the best interests of Pat's memory," Webb said. "From the beginning, this lawsuit was about seeking justice for Pat and answers for Culpeper. To some degree, that was recently obtained in the actions of those concerned by agreeing to a settlement."
The ability to wait out a lawsuit is one advantage governments always have in avoiding accountability in court. If the amount being paid by the town's insurance company remains undisclosed, residents will never know just how much poor police hiring practices and training policies cost them. And nothing else will happen.