Parpan Column: ‘Country justice’ is really no justice at all

When Douglas Cooper was last arrested in July 1995, many folks in the community were quick to defend him.

Although he was accused of and freely admitted to firing two shotgun blasts into a car filled with teenagers, he was portrayed in columns and letters to the editor of this newspaper as a businessman taking a stand against the “bad guy.”

“Country Justice, Doug Cooper Style,” read the headline of Troy Gustavson’s column in the Aug. 10, 1995, edition of The Suffolk Times, a title that conjures a Western starring a different man named Cooper.

“There are those of us out there who admire Mr. Cooper for taking a stand against the bad guys,” Mr. Gustavson wrote. “He had a problem and he dealt with it. There’s something admirable about that, don’t you think?”

Now, in a sense, history has repeated itself. Yes, the two shooting instances occurred under very different circumstances and there are conflicting versions of what actually happened Friday night, when Mr. Cooper was arrested for allegedly firing his gun in the direction of a tenant during a rent dispute. But even Mr. Cooper has admitted to this newspaper that he did fire his shotgun.

This all makes me wonder: If Mr. Cooper was penalized the first time he was arrested for firing his gun, instead of being treated like a country folk hero, would he have demonstrated such a poor lapse in judgment this time around?

It should be noted that this newspaper’s editorial board later called for him to step down from the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education while his case was pending in 1995, but much of the reaction from the community was in defense of Mr. Cooper as letters and stories about the incident followed for weeks.

“John Locke wrote that ‘Justice is the highest public virtue,’ ” former Long Island Farm Bureau president Joe Gergela wrote in an Aug. 17, 1995, letter to the editor. “In Doug Cooper’s case we all hope that this principle is realized.”

John Locke? The guy shot at a car full of kids whose friend stole $10 from him. Two of the car’s passengers said they had just met the alleged thief that night.

“As a farm owner, I can understand the frustration level that he was driven to,” wrote current County Legislator Al Krupski, then a Town Trustee.

An elected official and family man understood why he shot at a car full of teens?

The community’s reaction read more like something out of the Black Hills Pioneer in Deadwood, S.D., circa 1876 than a modern-day weekly newspaper in Mattituck, N.Y.

The felony charge Mr. Cooper faced 20 years ago, which would have carried a seven-year prison sentence, was dismissed within months. Outside of paying for repairs to the vehicle he damaged, no real penalty was ever issued.

While I understand Mr. Cooper is merely accused of a crime at this point and deserves to be heard in court, his comments to the local media this week were shaky at best. He told one news outlet he did not fire his gun. He then told two others he did shoot, but to scare off a deer -— an animal that requires hunters to hide in trees in silence wearing camouflage for hours at a time because the quietest sound and slowest movement will cause them to run off.

Facing less serious misdemeanor charges this time around, my money is on Mr. Cooper walking away without any real consequences. He’ll probably run for another term on the school board three years from now and be a top vote-getter, too.

To this newspaper editor, however, he’s guilty of using poor judgment twice, by firing a shotgun when one wasn’t necessary. It’s a good thing nobody was hurt either time, and a shame he didn’t hit the deer.

TR1226_Staff_Parpan_C.jpgThe author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 631-354-8046.