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Allegations hit ex-chief

Published Oct. 16, 2005

State Attorney Brad King on Thursday reeled off a series of allegations against indicted Crystal River Police Chief David Cook, shedding some light on a grand jury's conclusion that Cook is unfit to be chief. The charges included taking a videocassette recorder out of the Police Department evidence room to his home and failing to show up to testify at a burglary trial.

"My prosecutor in that (burglary) case had to watch the judge dismiss the case because the chief did not show up to testify," King said, answering questions at a City Council meeting.

The council is trying to determine what action to take against Cook and two other officers who were indicted with him more than two weeks ago.

The state attorney expressed particular concern about the department's evidence room, which he said had not been secured or monitored.

"An evidence room and the collection and maintenance of evidence by any law enforcement agency is really crucial to the operation of not only that department but the entire criminal justice system," King said.

The videocassette recorder that Cook took was a stolen item that had been recovered from a pawn shop, said Gerard King, an investigator with the state attorney's office.

It was supposed to have been returned to a woman in Iowa, but it never got there. Cook told investigators that the VCR had been stolen from his house, Gerard King said.

At one point, marijuana was taken from the evidence room for use in a sting operation but not returned until the state began investigating the department, Brad King said. Also, the sting took place outside of city limits and outside the department's jurisdiction.

In the trial of Jon Eric Bengston, who was convicted of second-degree murder last October, Cook again presented prosecutors with a problem. A person reported finding the murder victim's purse near a swimming pool and handing it to Cook.

One of Cook's officers said Cook handed the purse to her. But Cook denied ever touching it, King said.

"We had to leave Chief Cook out of testifying because his story was totally inconsistent with the other two people," he said.

Crystal River resident Harvey Smith, speaking in defense of Cook,

questioned whether the grand jury heard only the evidence that prosecutors wanted them to. He also suggested that the investigation may have been racially motivated.

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