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BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
James Jennings is quick to point out that he never knew Patricia Cook, the 54-year-old Culpeper woman who was shot and killed by a town police officer on Feb. 9.
Still, he says that, as a Christian, he feels it necessary to stand up for her.
"One day I'd like to hear God say, 'My life was taken and you spoke for me,'" Jennings said, paraphrasing a Bible passage in which Jesus urges his followers to treat their fellow men as they would treat him.
Earlier this week, Jennings started a Facebook page called "Justice for Patricia Cook" and an online petition drive demanding criminal prosecution of the officer involved in the shooting.
"I'm not judging this guy," said Jennings, 54, who is retired from an international banking company. "I just think that in this kind of a shooting there should an arrest and bail. Let a judge or jury decide."
Cook was shot five times after the officer approached her while she was sitting in the vehicle in the parking lot of a church school. According to state police, the officer said she rolled up the car window, trapping his hand, and then tried to drive away.
A witness said the officer's hand appeared to be on the door handle. The officer, who has been identified as 33-year-old Daniel Wright, was placed on administrative leave.
The investigation is now in the hands of a special grand jury that is scheduled to meet in May and June and deliver its findings sometime this summer.
The case was given to the grand jury by special prosecutor Jim Fisher, the commonwealth's attorney in Fauquier County. Fisher, like the Virginia State Police, did not make a determination in the matter.
"It has been 10 weeks now and nothing has been done," said Jennings. "If it had been an ordinary person, it wouldn't have taken that long."
Jennings is especially critical of Fisher, whom he accuses of passing the buck.
"He needs to be speaking for Patricia Cook and if he doesn't have the backbone to do it, he should resign and let someone else do it," Jennings said. "Jim Fisher should have enough evidence to make charges or drop the case."
Fisher did not respond yesterday to phone calls and an email request for comment.
Jennings said he is bothered by the way the town Police Department and the Town Council have responded to the incident.
"They say that their goal is transparency, and then there is all this police secrecy," Jennings said.
He said the lack of public information is not fair to Cook and her family, and it is not helpful to the Police Department.
"It casts a shadow over all the officers," Jennings said. "The public should not have to worry that the police constitute a danger to the public."
Jennings said he started the Facebook page and petition drive because there are too many unanswered questions about the incident and because of the lack of information released regarding the shooting. He is upset that the investigation into the shooting has taken so long and has been handed off from the state police to the special prosecutor to the investigative grand jury.
"I'm not trying to gather a lynch mob," he said. "I just want to make sure our officials are really protecting us. Without the facts, how can the citizens be certain this won't be repeated?"