|March 31, 2010
Source: True Slant - Steven Webster
Texans, beware: If you teach your kids that the “government is out to harm them,” police in Williamson County might just deem you an “unsuitable” parent.
That startling claim, leveled by officers in Child Protective Services documents detailing an investigation into an Austin-area activist couple, should be enough to give reason for pause to any staunch conservative in the state.
The allegation was made against drug reform activist filmmakers Barry and Candi Cooper, whose home was recently raided and searched after the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department claimed Barry’s voice was heard in the background audio of an allegedly false police report.
Once in the couple’s home, officers discovered a small amount of marijuana and charged the Coopers with Class B misdemeanors, resulting in both their arrests. Each immediately bonded out of jail and paid a small fine. Days later, while Candi’s youngest son was visiting his father in east Texas, Child Protective Services contacted the Coopers, revealing that the incident could cost them not only custody of the boy, but also their freedom on felony child endangerment charges.
After CPS interviewed the couple, Travis County Deputy District Attorney Dayna Blazey pronounced both Coopers to be fit parents, whose children are healthy, happy and “well cared for.”
“[There] is nothing to indicate that the kids are at risk,” she wrote.
A message requesting the deputy DA’s comment on this story went unanswered at time of publication.
Her conclusion, which falls at the end of documents published below, is almost odd following the numerous pages of text entered by police, who seemingly describe an alternate reality.
Among their claims — that Barry and Candi regularly give illicit drugs to their children, that they allow and encourage other kids to use drugs in their home, that they’ve mentally abused their children by telling them that marijuana is good and anti-drug efforts are riddled with lies — the most extreme is that the Coopers are “unsuitable” parents because they create an environment in which the children learn their “government is out to harm them.”
The allegation is found atop page five of the CPS report.
In another completely dumbfounding, ironic entry, Sgt. Gary Haston of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department — the officer whose testimony appears on the original search warrant affidavit — actually claims he observed the children “crying for no reason” as armed officers invaded their home. [Emphasis added.]
He also claims that Barry “hates” his father and does not believe in church, as though this information would somehow be relevant to the CPS agents.
Haston, who Cooper described as Williamson County’s “head of narcotics,” has an extensive history with drug interdiction as a police officer. He was even the 2008-2009 vice president for the Texas Narcotic Officers Association Central Region, according to a memo circulated by the association. It was his testimony that gave officers access to the Coopers’ residence and files for the alleged misdemeanor offense of filing a false police report.
A request for comment left with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department went unanswered at time of publication.
“In my 19 years of experience with criminal defense matters, a search warrant for a misdemeanor charge is certainly unusual,” wrote Minnesota attorney Maury D. Beaulier, who had no prior knowledge of the Coopers’ case. “It indicates to me that this is a targeted investigation. It may be targeted because it is believed to be a part of a greater crime or conspiracy, or, perhaps, because there are political motivations at work.”
While searching through the Coopers’ private data, police discovered a photograph of a minor in the shower, nude from the bust up. The image was a risque self-portrait shot by one of the adolescent children, who later took sole responsibility for the photo. Both parents claimed they knew nothing about it before the issue was raised to them by authorities. Ultimately, the photo held no bearing on their case and the minor was warned to be cautious with digital imaging equipment. Because of the individual’s age, all identifying information has been removed from the documents published below.
In a court hearing Tuesday, the Coopers were unsuccessful in re-obtaining custody of Zachary, Candi’s seven-year-old who is currently under the care of his father in Upshur County, Texas. The court did not issue a ruling, as matters of geographic limitations have yet to be addressed. Barry and Candi are seeking to have the custody battle in Travis County, but it’s still a matter of dispute. Lawyers for the Coopers and Zachary Johnston’s father brokered limited visitation rights for Candi, but Barry is required to stay away from the boy for the time being.
Because of the nature of Texas’ drug laws and their status as nationally-known political activists, the Coopers are facing the very real possibility of losing Zach entirely, with future contact only allowed in the context of supervised visitation.
“I just don’t know what I’ll do if we lose Zach,” Barry said. “That would be the most horrible thing to ever happen to me in my entire life.”
The 19-page CPS report follows.