U.S. Attorney drops charges against Cooney

The U.S. Attorney’s office of the District of Columbia dropped all charges against Philip Cooney (MSB ’10) relating to an assault that occurred last fall which attracted controversy on and off campus.

Cooney was charged with bias-related assault by the Metropolitan Police Department last September, but the U.S. Attorney reported that “subsequent investigation raised doubts as to … whether based upon available evidence we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant in this case was the person who actually committed the assault.”

“Philip was always completely innocent of the charges against him and the dismissal of the case has vindicated him entirely,” Danny Onorato, Cooney’s lawyer, wrote in a statement. “To know Philip Cooney is to know a young man of exemplary character who was wrongfully accused in this case.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office has indicated that they continue to consider the assault, in which a male Georgetown student was beaten by an assailant who shouted anti-gay slurs, a criminal act. Cooney was originally implicated in the assault through a Facebook.com profile and, later, a police photo line-up. During the pre-trial period, the prosecuting Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Mary Dobbie and Joseph Spurber, determined that they would not be able to firmly establish that Cooney was present at the time of the assault.

Neither Cooney nor the spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office were available for comment. It is not clear at this time if any investigation into the assault will continue.

For the Voice’s comprehensive coverage of the case, click here. Check this blog and Thursday’s edition for more information on the dropped charges.

10 Comments on “U.S. Attorney drops charges against Cooney

  1. Georgetown University and the Chief of Police owe Philip a huge apology. This situation smells very much like the Duke case. Over eager folks trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of others. Statements were being released by Georgetown and the Police Chief before Philip even knew the charges.

  2. What changed between the original arrest, or the first hearings, and now; that the US attorney–who on the same evidence was willing to bring charges and have an arrest made–now says that evidence is insufficient?

    If it is insufficient now, why was it sufficient before?

    (Was the arrest made only to satisfy the community?)

    Was it necessary for the defendant to have to go through the expense (including the emotional expense) of being in legal jeopardy for several months, because the US
    attorney’s office needed that much time to make up its mind about the insufficiency
    of the evidence?

    Was the entire charge merely an exercise in bullying a defendant (and his pocketbook) in hopes of getting him to plead (which would therefore let the US attorney’s office off the hook as to why it brought charges in the first place)?

    Is this typical of the way prosecutors work?

  3. Pingback: Son of Former Bush Aide Cleared in Anti-Gay Georgetown Assault : PinkNews.co.uk

  4. Chavez,

    Good questions all. I’m in the midst of getting some answers; check back tomorrow for a more in-depth article.

  5. Hey, Tim Fernholz,

    I thought you told Chavez you were in the midst of getting some answers; check back tomorrow. You didn’t answer any of the questions about the state of the charges at the time of the arrest compared to the time of when they dropped the charges, pressure form the community, or the angle of bullying the defendant in order to get a plea. You do know that they offered to drop the hate crime aspect if Cooney would plead guilty to simple assault, right? Would they offer that to someone they thought committed a hate crime? Your inclusion of the wildly speculative quote from Georgetown Law Professor Paul Rothstein was a shocker; that is, in terms of reading it and going, “There is no possible way that a law professor with no information on the case actually just made that wild leap that the prosecutor could place Cooney at the crime and probably had evidence he committed the assault – huh? What?” Where in the world did that come from?

  6. Perhaps some people are more trusting of prosecutors than I am. Before the Duke case, I would have been trusting, too. Since then I have learned how the legal system can be manipulated by a prosecutor for his own ends. I have either been disillusioned, or else had my eyes opened.
    If a prosecutor in the District wants to charge someone, the burden of proof is on him (as it should be) to make his case, and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Prove it to us doubters.
    If he fails to do that, then he should never have brought the case in the first place.
    And I am long past believing that prosecutors are not aware which way the political
    winds are blowing; or that they never have any motive other than to seek
    (Or, for you civil libertarians, that the 6th amendment to the Constitution, which is supposed to deprive prosecutors of the power to delay trials indefinitely and so pressure defendants to plead to a lesser charge, has any meaning any longer.)
    If you need any proof that justice in DC is political, look no further than the cases of Cynthia McKinney, Patrick Kennedy, Duke defendant Finnerty, and many more).

  7. Hey again Tim Fernholz,

    I also find it troubling that in your article you claimed to have access to court documents that aren’t public, and you are the only one reporting that the defense “intended to challenge the credibility of the witness,” but you gave no indication of how or why you thought they were going to do that. Do you have information that others don’t have about what exactly would have made the victim not credible (other than the obvious conflicting accounts about hearsay in the classroom being the cause of the original i.d., whereby the person identified as having the conversation denied it to police prior to the arrest). You don’t even hint at what it was they had that would have put his credibility at risk. You devoted a lot of room in your story, however, to Professor Rothstein’s totally fictitious meanderings about how basically he (having nothing to do with the case), speculated that the prosecutor could prove Cooney was there and that he probably did it, but not beyond a reasonable doubt, and then allowed him to continue with his schtick on how since the Duke scandal, prosecutors are REALLY afraid now to go after people who might be able to defend themselves against baseless charges. What was the point of this? Is Rothstein saying that it’s too bad that people with money can afford to defend themselves when they are falsely accused, or is he saying that only poor people should be falsely charged with crimes by prosecutors now because we know they can’t afford to defend themselves? It sounded like he thought it was really too bad that prosecutors would have to think twice before ruining the lives of white males in college with access to money. The whole inclusion of his comments was bizarre.

  8. Hey Tim Fernholz – are you out there? Why don’t you respond? You said you were getting answers to Chavez’ questions and you didn’t address any of them. Why?

  9. Pingback: Vox Populi » More Cooney analysis

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