Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Georgetown Hate Crime Case Falling Apart

You may recall a post from a couple of weeks ago, "Another Duke Lacrosse Injustice?" about a flimsy hate crime case brought against the son of a prominent, former member of the Bush administration. At the time, I criticized the manner in which police relied on the identification of Philip Cooney as the person who committed a gay hate crime attack on a fellow Georgetown student. The victim claimed he learned of the alleged attacker's identity after a friend overheard a person talking about the attack in a classroom and noted the monogram on the person's handbag. The victim searched through Facebook based upon this information, which led him to Cooney's profile. At the time of his arrest, Cooney's attorney complained that police never bothered to interview him before charging him with the attack.

According to Cooney's attorney, Dan Onoroto, the U.S. Attorney's office already offered to reduce the charge to simple assault without the aggravating hate/bias specification and to expunge Cooney's record after he successfully completed probation, but Cooney rejected the plea offer. Onorato says his client passed a polygraph examination. The real eye-catching item in a report today in the Hoya, however, is the news that the person who allegedly overheard Cooney talking about the attack in a classroom now denies this claim by the victim. "Onorato said that both he and MPD’s detectives interviewed the friend of the victim, who allegedly denied witnessing anyone discussing the incident in a class," the Hoya reports. "Onorato said that this significantly undermines the prosecution’s case." Not surprisingly, police aren't commenting on their interview with the victim's friend.

This case is obviously headed for an early dismissal. Hopefully, these prosecutors won't make the same mistakes as the Duke Lacrosse prosecutor and continue to press this case. That being said, where does Cooney go to get his reputation back after police and prosecutor have mistakenly accused him of being a gay basher based on such flimsy evidence?


Anonymous said...

The case is falling apart alright. Shocking that even though the police had conflicting accounts raising serious doubts about the i.d. process prior to arresting Cooney, they still failed to even question him. It doesn't even appear that they have done anything to investigate the victim's account of events, his whereabouts that evening, or his sketchy identification process at all. The police have no motivation to do so, because they will look bad if Cooney is dismissed. One wonders when the victim and his friends learned of Cooney's ties to the Bush Administration, and when the police learned that information. Was it before or after he was pinpointed? Shouldn't the police look into that? Unfortunately for them, Cooney's reputation is so impeccable they are having trouble convincing anyone that he is the perpetrator, except for those who are simply desperate to believe it. The facts are just not supporting the prosecution.

Sam said...

The Hoya got it wrong. Here's their correction:

*The article "Cooney Turns Down Plea Offer" (THE HOYA, Oct. 16, 2007, A1) incorrectly stated that Philip Cooney's attorney, Dan Onorato, said that he and Metropolitan Police Department detectives interviewed a friend of the victim, who allegedly denied prior knowledge of the alleged hate crime that Cooney has been charged with. Onorato said that he and MPD detectives spoke with the friend of Cooney whose discussion was allegedly overheard by the victim's friend, and he said that Cooney's friend denied speaking of the incident or having any prior knowledge of it.

Anonymous said...

Great column -- very perceptive. Here's one reason why this case should fall apart: The police have the wrong man. Take a look at this Georgetown University email to students about an incident that happened one month AFTER the incident for which Cooney was arrested:

"Two unknown persons assaulted and made homophobic remarks to a complainant at 2:34 a.m. Sunday, October 14, 2007. A complainant reported to DPS that at approximately 2:34 a.m., he was approached by two unknown males as he walked up Lauinger library steps. The suspects made homophobic remarks and followed the complainant to the Healy building. The suspects pushed the complainant into the side of the building and blew smoke in his face."

Let's see. Two assailants. Homophobic slurs. 2:30 in the morning. On a Sunday. On the Georgetown campus. Just like the facts surrounding the assault the police have arrested Cooney for. Could it be that these are the assailants, not Cooney?

This prosecution should be ended. The police made a bad arrest, based on a bad identification. The prosecutors don't have to perpetuate the error and continue to ruin Cooney's life.