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Attorney seeks one trial for chief facing 2 charges

Suspended Crystal River Police Chief David Cook and Cpl. Arthur Sams Jr. entered innocent pleas Monday to a variety of charges that a grand jury handed down two weeks ago. But before the issues of guilt and innocence are debated, Cook's attorney is pursuing another argument: which court will handle his client's trials.

Brooksville attorney Chip Harp asked Circuit Judge John Thurman to hear both of Cook's cases together in Circuit Court. Cook, 38, faces a felony grand theft charge and a charge of obstructing an investigation, a misdemeanor. County Court traditionally handles misdemeanors.

All four of Sams' cases are felonies and will be handled in Circuit Court. Sgt. Ron Roppolo, the third Crystal River officer named in the indictments, faces three misdemeanor charges, which will be handled in County Court at a later date.

Harp said Cook's cases are similar and will require the same witnesses and depositions. To split the cases, Harp said, would be "divide and conquer on the state's part" and would be "financially devastating" for Cook.

"We don't want to give them two bites of the same apple," Harp said.

Assistant State Attorney Reginald Black argued that the charges are "two entirely different situations," and each should be handled in its proper forum.

They are "totally unconnected in time, space or circumstance," he said.

Thurman ordered a hearing to decide the issue, but a date was not set.

A hearing also will decide whether an audit of the Crystal River police evidence room should be made available to the defense. Black said the document is part of the grand jury's presentment, which is a public record.

Harp said court clerks have not shown him a copy of the audit.

The cases of Cook, Sams and Roppolo originated from a five-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the 5th Circuit State Attorney's Office.

That information was presented to a grand jury that on Jan. 31 indicted the officers on charges ranging from grand theft to perjury.

The panel also issued a stinging presentment, or summary of its findings.

In a variety of written motions filed Monday, Harp also lashed out at the presentment, especially the portions accusing Cook of sexual misconduct, "so vague and nebulous that it defies imagination."

Harp moved to have the information in the presentment kept out of any future court proceedings.