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Deputy reassigned from SRO duties

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Asks for transfer after FBI report of misconduct made public

By Tom Wilmoth

    Last year he was named School Resource Officer of the Year, for the exemplary job he did while serving in that position at Staunton River High School.

    Now Deputy Christopher Lee Cook is working in the civil division, serving papers for the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, mired in the center of a federal investigation.
    That investigation is looking into charges made by convicted drug dealer Les Christopher Burns that prosecutors withheld information about misconduct by Cook during the investigation that sent Burns to prison.
    Burns is alleging in his appeal of the conviction, in which he was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for dealing prescription drugs, that Cook’s testimony at his trial could have been     impeached    under cross examination by his attorney, had that misconduct been made known to his lawyer at that time.

Sheriff’s response
    Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown said this week that on April 16, 2013, his office learned of accusations involving Deputy Cook of an incident involving two adults that allegedly occurred on December 8, 2012. “I immediately ordered an extensive internal investigation,” Brown stated. “Upon completion of the internal investigation, a disciplinary hearing was held on April 23, 2013, as to Deputy Cook.  The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office turned over the results of the internal investigation to the Department of Justice and fully cooperated with their investigation and continue to cooperate with them.”
    As a result of that investigation Deputy Cook was transferred from his investigative duties to the Community Services Division, in which he became the Staunton River High School SRO.
    “As directed by the county attorney, this is a personnel matter and in the Federal court in an appellate process and as such I cannot comment further as to the discipline imposed or the results of the investigation other than to say that Deputy Cook’s truthfulness was never questioned throughout the investigation,” stated Brown.
    He added that Cook requested to be reassigned from his duties as SRO.
    Brown, who is in an election year—being challenged by Charles Stebbins—knows that this case will be used as political fodder against him.  “It will be used politically and we understand that,” Brown said. “There are always two sides to any story. We will be glad to answer any questions once it is out of the appellate system.”
    
The court files
    Bedford County Attorney Carl Boggess, in a response to questions posed to Sheriff Brown by the US Department of Justice, said Deputy Cook had been “completely truthful” in his responses to the administrative inquiry by the BCSO. Boggess acknowledged that there had been misconduct on the part of Deputy Cook related to the investigation, “but no conduct that reflects upon the truthfulness or possible bias of Deputy Cook.”
    Boggess also stated in his response that Cook had disclosed he had resigned from the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office after improperly requesting license plate information on an individual. An indictment had been presented to a Botetourt grand jury in connection with that request but the grand jury did not return an indictment against him.
    The main focus of Burns’s appeal will likely be on an incident in 2012 while Cook was working as an investigator on the case. In that incident, described in documents filed in the appellate case, Cook allegedly met with a woman who was testifying before the grand jury in the case. During a meeting Dec. 8-9 with the woman in Montvale, Cook allegedly had been texting the woman that he wanted to have a drink and talk with her.
    The paperwork states that Cook had been drinking, while serving his shift, and was now off shift though using a department vehicle. The report states that Cook made sexual advances to her and “pulls it out and plays with himself.”
    At a later meeting he tells the woman she could be arrested and would give her “a thorough strip search.”
    The report stated that Cook continued to text the woman throughout the month of Dec. 2012.
    When the allegations were made known and investigated in 2013, Brown sent a letter to Cook spelling out the facts of his demotion and suspension, noting that his “actions were very serious; actions that could warrant termination.”
    Brown demoted him to a road deputy and suspended him for 10 days without pay. He was also ordered to attend counseling.
    Brown stated in his letter: “Chris, if I were not confident that this incident was out of character with your normal high caliber of work, you would have been terminated. I am confident that this type of behavior will not occur again. Please know that my door is open if you should ever need to talk.”

School response
    Bedford County Public Schools Public Relations Coordinator Ryan Edwards said the BCSO was making sure Staunton River was covered until a permanent SRO could be provided to the school. He said Cook had done an outstanding job while serving at the school. There have been no allegations related to his work as the school’s SRO.