One former drug cop's crusade of civil disobedience against America's drug war establishment has turned into a nightmare for his family, which now faces the very real threat of losing a father and husband for up to six months or more.
Barry Cooper stood handcuffed in front of the state's capitol building on Friday morning, after he'd turned himself in on a warrant for allegedly making a False Report to a Peace Officer. Once one of the Permian Basin Narcotics Task Force's most successful agents, Cooper has refashioned himself an anti-prohibition activist and filmmaker; or, America's "drug war insurgent," as area media declared.
With the help of a benefactor who hoped to embarrass the Odessa Police Department, Cooper and a team of researchers, videographers and lawyers staged a high-media assault on the west Texas cops in late 2008. By setting up a fake marijuana grow-house retrofitted with small pine trees and high-heat light bulbs, then ensuring the delivery of an anonymous tip about the home to a local pastor, a trap was set.
After the pastor went to officers with the anonymous letter, Cooper says he suspects police peeked into the home with infrared cameras, which is illegal without a search warrant. They would have seen the numerous, hot bulbs and what appeared to be plants growing, along with the location of the home's heat vent, but could not have known for sure that it was marijuana.
A local judge then signed a warrant based solely on the anonymous tip -- a practice which has also been barred by the Supreme Court -- and officers raided the home, only to discover they were on camera, duped by one of their own.
Cooper says that as a result of his stunt and legal research put in by his team, Yolanda Madden, an Odessa woman jailed in 2005 on possession of methamphetamine, was freed from federal prison.Ã‚Â Federal judge Rob Junell ordered Madden's sentence vacated in Dec. 2009 because the prosecution had withheld evidence that might have negated a key piece of material evidence,Ã‚Â according toÃ‚Â The Odessa American.
He added that neither the Odessa police nor the U.S. District Attorney's office appeared to be involved in wrongdoing in the case. Prior to a retrial, Madden brokered a deal with prosecution that ensured her continued freedom by pleading guilty to lesser charges.
Over a year and a half after his stunt, the Texas Rangers issued a warrant for the arrest of Barry Cooper, along with his wife Candi, accusing them of a Class B misdemeanor: Making a False Report to a Peace officer.
The Coopers contend that delivery of an anonymous letter to a religious leader in the community is not the same as making a false report to police, but authorities in Texas are determined to let that be decided by the courts.
An 'accidental portrait' of Barry Cooper (click for large version).
The Coopers both have a separate charge of Making a False Report to a Peace Officer that's connected to another so-called 'KopBusters' sting he pulled in Williamson County late last year. He claims to have tricked an officer into believing a suspicious package contained drug money, which he says the officer kept. Police raided the family's home after Cooper confronted officers in Liberty Hill with what he says is video evidence of the theft.
Williamson County's charges were even moreÃ‚Â tenuous than those stemming from Odessa: central Texas police claim Cooper's voice could be heard in the background audio of a false report, which they felt was enough evidence to give them a search warrant on the family's home. Barry insisted they were looking for a large-scale marijuana grow operation, but instead found only a couple smoked marijuana cigarette roaches.
After the search, police additionally charged Barry and Candi with possessing a small amount of marijuana, then seized their files and electronic equipment. Shortly thereafter, Candi lost custody of her 8-year-old son to his estranged father in Upshur County, who claimed he did not want the boy in an environment with illegal drugs potentially present. The child custody battle was ongoing at time of this writing.
Candi Cooper looks away after Barry's arrest (originally published on TrueSlant.com).
In a series of allegations police filed with Child Protective Services (CPS), Williamson County officers claimed that because the Coopers taught their children to mistrust government, they were "unsuitable parents." A CPS investigation led by Travis County Assistant District Attorney Dayna Blazey concluded that children in the couple's care were safe and healthy, and that the Coopers appeared to be fit parents.
Barry's arrest at the Texas capitol building on Friday ended a three-day standoff with the Texas Rangers, who'd arrested his wife earlier in the week outside their home in south Austin. They claim a woman knocked on their front door insisting she'd backed into their vehicle and needed to trade insurance information. When Candi opened the door, she was immediately arrested.
Criticizing the elite law enforcement unit's actions was Michael May with the Texas Observer, who wrote of the emerging "drug war insurgent":
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not surprising that the Rangers want to put him in his place, but our police should be above petty vendettas -- and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to see how putting elite officers on the trial of a misdemeanor offense is anything but a petty vendetta. In short, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve done nothing but prove BarryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contention that law enforcement priorities in this state are skewed at best, and corrupt at their worst.
May added in an update on Cooper's arrest that it was the second time police used such heavy-handed tactics on the family over an alleged misdemeanor: "evidence," he said, "that the agencies are taking his work personally."
Outside the capitol building on Friday morning, which had been shut down due to a threat of bombs going off at 9 a.m., Cooper told reporters he'd written the words "JURY NULLIFICATION" across his forehead to promote the mostly-forgotten right of citizen juries to vote not guilty if they find the law or its application to be morally repugnant.
Wearing a white shirt, sporting dreadlocks and tattoos, he spoke for several minutes about the detriment of the war on drugs and the horrors of prison life, then had his attorney inform officers of his warrant. He was taken away in the front seat of a patrol car moments later.
Cooper's attorney denied any involvement with the bomb threat on the capitol, which had already attracted area television media to the scene. They were filming at the exact moment of Cooper's arrival, causing a sudden flurry of activity on an otherwise locked-down capitol lawn. Police later cleared Cooper of any relation to the threat after identifying the exact phone that placed the call and spotting a man on security cameras who looked nothing like Barry.
Cooper told reporters gathered on the scene that he'd scrawled the words "constitutional obedience" across his white t-shirt because the phrase means "civil disobedience" to him.
"I'm sorry and sad that humans still treat people like this," Cooper said as he sat in a patrol car. "It doesn't make any sense."
Wrists in chains, Cooper gives a two -- and one -- finger salute before heading to jail.
Released around 10:30 p.m., Barry related his experience in the booking facility, which he said was full with "maybe 30 or so" people.
"I'm telling you, like at least 25 of those people were there for non-violent drug crimes," Cooper claimed. "Like, pot, ecstasy, prescription abuse, cocaine ... Then there were like four or five that had like, burglary, assault, armed robbery, that sort of thing."
He also said that once in the jail, a number of the officers revealed themselves to be fans of his activism. One, Barry said, stood up and shook his hand, claiming to be "a big Ron Paul supporter" and "totally in support" of Cooper's anti-prohibitionist cause. While others allegedly said they believed his cause to be wrong, still more spoke up in favor and something of a civil debate among the Travis County jailers ensued. Barry said he was also asked about "jury nullification" more than once, by officers and prisoners.
"I mostly just tried to talk to the cops and the prisoners to expand they way they think about American rights and freedoms," he said. "Everyone was very depressed. Jail is a very depressing place and we've got to stop arresting so many non-violent citizens and taking away their freedom."
Barry faces a maximum of six months in prison if convicted on the charge from Odessa. A Williamson County court date is scheduled for next week, which could also result in a similar amount of time behind bars.
This video of Cooper's press conference and arrest was published to YouTube on Friday, July 2, 2010.
This news report is from MyFox Austin, broadcast Friday, July 2, 2010.
This video was broadcast by Austin ABC affiliate KVUE on May 10, 2010.
Photos and YouTube video by Stephen C. Webster.
Updated from an original version to add local media footage.