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Officer: Judge didn't try to sway police

Police Officer Phil Nash said the two women and a man were arm-in-arm, all highly intoxicated, walking down the middle of a street in Carmel, Calif., at 1:30 a.m.

The man was Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles W. Cope.

"All three were holding onto each other to stand up," Nash said in an interview on Tuesday. "Thankfully, there was no traffic. I could have arrested all three for public intoxication."

But he said police were already too busy on other calls. So Nash gave them all a ride to their hotels with a warning to stay off the streets until they sobered up.

For Cope, an arrest followed the next day, April 5, when he was accused of trying to enter the same women's hotel room at about 12:30 a.m. The women, a 64-year-old Maryland woman and her 31-year-old daughter, say only the door's chain lock prevented Cope from entering.

Police charged Cope with two misdemeanors: prowling/loitering and peering into an inhabited dwelling. Cope, 52, has pleaded not guilty, saying the women identified the wrong man.

Nash said that Cope asked him as he was being arrested, "Is there anything you can do to make this go away?"

But Nash said he and another officer made it clear they couldn't cut any suspect a break. Both officers say that Cope, who they said had been drinking, never tried to use his position as a judge to influence them.

Arresting officers said in interviews that Cope told them they were "ruining" his career by arresting him and told them that he might face investigation in Florida by the group that regulates judges.

That agency is the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which cannot confirm an investigation.

Cope, reached at his office Tuesday, declined to comment about his arrest, saying he could not talk about a pending criminal investigation.

"I have already told you that this is just a huge misunderstanding," he said.

Police said Cope was walking by the Normandy Inn on April 4 when he saw the mother and daughter engaged in a heated discussion. Cope interjected himself into their conversation, police said. At some point, the three began walking in each other's arms down the middle of a nearby street. When Nash stopped them, Cope told Nash the three were headed to his own hotel about three blocks away, Nash said.

Nash said he mistakenly assumed that all three knew each other well and were staying at the same hotel. So he got them all into his cruiser and drove them to Cope's hotel, the La Playa.

But when they arrived, the women told Nash that they were staying at a different hotel.

After Cope got out of the cruiser, Cope "told me he wouldn't mind if the mother left with me and the daughter was left behind" with Cope, Nash said.

Nash said he asked the daughter, who refused to stay behind with Cope, who is married and has three children.

Chester Phillips, one of Cope's California attorneys, said he knew nothing of this remark. But he said it sounds likely that, if true, Cope simply wanted to console the woman because she was upset after a fight with her mother.

When Nash returned the women to their hotel room, they noticed that their room key was missing, police said.

Nash said the two women were more intoxicated than Cope on April 4. But the following morning, Nash said, the two women were not drunk when they were awakened in their hotel room by the sound of their door opening.

As one woman dialed 911, the other looked out the window and identified Cope, police said.

The women insist that their door was locked and Cope would have needed a key to get in, police said.

Police found Cope walking about a block away. Cope told police he had just finished dinner at a nearby restaurant. But Officer John Nyunt said they soon discovered that the restaurant had been closed at least 90 minutes.

"His alibi just didn't check out," Nyunt said.

Police searched Cope and his room but did not find the missing room key, which police say has never been recovered.

Nyunt said after officers read Cope a Miranda warning, advising him of his right to remain silent, Cope said, "What do you mean?"

"I said, "Come on. You know you know your Miranda rights. You're a judge,' " Nyunt said.

Phillips, Cope's attorney, said Cope was simply taking a walk through Carmel, something he said tourists do all the time. Someone else tried to get into the women's room, he said.

He said the judge told police he had been to the restaurant much earlier in the evening.

As for Cope asking officers to "make this go away," Phillips said most defendants ask the same thing, asking police to consider their innocence.

"It's real typical for people to come to Carmel to enjoy the sites, the beach, the sunset," Phillips said. "There are a lot of pedestrians, people just walking around the streets. It's pretty common."

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