By Maggie O'Brien
In what the county's top prosecutor calls “disturbing” and “an abuse of power,” a Douglas County sheriff's deputy allegedly gave a 19-year-old Omaha woman an ultimatum: Come up with a way to get you and your boyfriend out of trouble.
In an interview Monday, the woman told The World-Herald that Deputy Cory Cooper made her perform oral sex after pulling over her and her boyfriend at Zorinsky Lake. Cooper found marijuana in the couple's vehicle.
He told the boyfriend to walk to the lake to dispose of the drug. He then turned his attention to the woman.
Cooper took her to his cruiser, where he allegedly told her to remove her shirt and exposed himself to her. She said she felt like she had no choice but to obey.
“All I could think was, 'What am I going to do to get out of this? Nobody's going to believe me over the police.' ”
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine alleged that Cooper used his badge and the threat of arrest of the woman and her boyfriend to make the woman perform the sex act. On Monday, he charged Cooper with first-degree sexual assault.
He said Omaha police continue to investigate whether there could be more victims.
Cooper, 29, turned himself in about 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Douglas County Corrections Center. His attorney, Michael J. Fitzpatrick of Omaha, asked that bail be set at $20,000, calling his client a “war hero,” and a “family man.”
- You see, when a cop is accused of some crime, they try to make them look like a wonderful citizen when they don't do this for the average citizen. It doesn't matter if he is a war hero or family man, if he committed a crime he should be held accountable.
Cooper served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the Nebraska National Guard. He is married, has two children and a third on the way.
Douglas County Judge Jeffrey Marcuzzo set Cooper's bail at $250,000. That means Cooper must post $25,000, or 10 percent, to be released from jail.
Marcuzzo said the sexual assault allegations against Cooper are serious, “especially given under the collar of the authority you possessed.”
Cooper was fired last month for what the Sheriff's Office called “inappropriate behavior” on the job. It came after a two-month investigation by the Omaha Police Department.
The alleged sex assault happened Feb. 10. Detectives interviewed the 19-year-old woman four days later.
Prosecutors said Cooper falsified reports about where he was the night of the alleged incident. His cruiser's GPS system, however, showed he was at the lake, they said.
“Anytime there is an allegation of this nature, it's disturbing enough,” Kleine said. “But when you have somebody in their capacity as a law enforcement officer and . . . uses that position of authority to do something like that it is even more disturbing. An abuse of power.”
Fitzpatrick said his client maintains his innocence.
“We're asking the public to not jump to any conclusions about this case yet,” Fitzpatric said. “Deputy Cooper strongly denies these allegations, and we're looking forward to going to trial on this so that the truth can come out.”
The woman said that for a while, she didn't think the former deputy would be arrested. After all, she said, he was a deputy.
Cooper had been a deputy for about five years and was a corrections officer before that.
He was reassigned to office duty on April 4 and placed on paid leave April 19.
Cooper did not appeal his firing.
Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning issued a statement in which he condemned Cooper's actions, saying his conduct “was shocking and the sheriff's office fully supports his arrest. Law enforcement officers are here to protect the public, not prey on them.”
Cooper is the third Omaha law enforcement officer charged with first-degree sexual assault in the past 15 years.
Former Omaha Police Officer Scott Antoniak was convicted in 2005 of first-degree sexual assault for making a prostitute perform oral sex on him in his cruiser. That woman saved Antoniak's semen after the act — leading to his conviction.
In 1999, Bobby Burrell, a former corrections officer at an Omaha state prison, was charged with first-degree sexual assault after a female inmate alleged he sexually assaulted her. Prosecutors dropped the charge after the woman recanted some of her account at trial.
DNA had linked Burrell to the episode. Burrell admitted having sex with the woman but said it was consensual. Prosecutors argued that the woman didn't, and couldn't, consent because of the power Burrell had over her.
That case led Sen. Ernie Chambers to propose, and state lawmakers to enact, a law making it illegal for an on-duty law enforcement or corrections officer to have consensual sex with anyone in custody.