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Leerburg Articles Article from Dallas Morning News

Article from Dallas Morning News

Article from Dallas Morning News

"Officer resigns in Lake Dallas during inquiry"
If diploma claims are false, he could lose state license


The article listed below appeared in the Dallas Morning News on Dec. 6th 1997. It concerns Marcus Cook who is the President of the Texas Police K9 Assoc. To understand why I would choose to include this article on my web site you would have to go to my list of training articles and read the other 4 other articles concerning Marcus Cook. I have listed links to these articles below.

I would like to mention that there are many good trainers in the Texas Police K9 Assoc. It is unfortunate that these men and women have to be associated with people like Cook. Since Cook wrote the by-laws to this organization and appointed himself "president for life." I will not be surprised if the majority of these members don't leave and form a legitimate police K9 organization in the near future.

A controversial Lake Dallas police sergeant could lose his peace officer’s license if a state agent investigation shows he falsely claimed to be a graduate of North Mesquite High School.

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers standards and Education is investigating whether Marcus Cook submitted falsified documents to obtain his license four years ago.

Mr. Cook applied to the law enforcement commission in 1993 to become a reserve law enforcement officer. On the sworn application, he stated that he was a high school graduate and submitted a 1984 diploma from North Mesquite High School as evidence.

Mr. Cook also has testified at least twice in separate civil suits that he is a North Mesquite graduate.

North Mesquite High School officials said Mr.Cook did not graduate from that school but withdrew in December 1983 after repeating the ninth grade and completing one semester of 10th grade.

Mesquite school officials said that Mr. Cook transferred to Brownwood High School in north Central Texas, where officials would not discuss his record. High school yearbooks show a Marc Cook attended Brownwood for one year.

Texas Education Agency officials said their records also do not reflect that Mr. Cook earned a GED -a high school equivalency diploma - in Texas.

Law enforcement officers in Texas are required to have a high school diploma or a GED.

Commission officials declined to comment on the specifics of their investigation into Mr. Cook's certification. In general, submission of falsified documents, if proved, "is cause to revoke the license" of a police officer, said Gerald Keown, director of program and institutional evaluations for the agency.

If investigators determine that's what happened in Mr. Cook's case, Mr. Keown said, the agency could revoke his certification administratively or file criminal charges.

Chief Ristagno declined to give details about Mr. Cook's situation, saying he was not allowed to discuss personnel matters.

“If TCLEOSE contacts us, we will assist,” he said.

Lake Dallas Mayor Jerry McCutcheon said the agency already has contacted the city. "The words I heard, TCLEOSE wanted to look at his [Mr. Cook's] file," Mr. McCutcheon said.

He also said Mr. Cook had been placed on administrative leave with pay a few days before his resignation.

“That means they had an investigation going on him. The chief had requested some kind of document verification and put him on administrative leave until he brought those documents in,” the mayor said. He said he did not know what documents had been requested or why.

Chief Ristagno said Mr. Cook's departure was voluntary, and Mr. McCutcheon said he still believes Mr. Cook was a good officer.

"I have no reason to believe that that [the state investigation] led to his resignation," the mayor said. He said Mr. Cook told city officials "he had a job offer he couldn't refuse."

Mr. Cook has been at the center of a swirl of controversies involving the Lake Dallas Police Department in the last year. Four officers fired by the department have alleged that they were punished for questioning his performance. Former Lake Dallas officers and police from nearby towns questioned Mr. Cook's treatment of suspects and handling of his police dog.

Mr. Cook has sued five former colleagues and a former Lake Dallas City Council member for defamation. An attorney for some of those defendants said this week that Mr. Cook has said he will drop the lawsuit.

Chief Ristagno, as head of the police agency that sponsored Mr. Cook as an officer, signed his state application.

In any investigation into possible falsification of documents, "what we are looking into is that entire application," said Mr. Keown of the state law enforcement commission. "The agency administrator signs and verifies that all this information is accurate. . . . We would be looking at anybody involved in that application process."

The mayor said backgrounds of police applicants should be closely checked. However, it was unclear what checking was done in Mr. Cook's case.

Chief Ristagno said Mr. Cook was hired originally as a dispatcher, and "we don't do as extensive a background check" on dispatchers.

Shortly thereafter, he was hired as a police officer. When the department already has employed a person, background checks "typically are not extensive," the chief said.

In depositions, court testimony and interviews with The Dallas Morning News, Mr. Cook has given differing answers to questions about his education, employment history, places of residence and arrest record. He told The Morning News this summer that he had past arrests only for traffic violations.

But Brown County records show - and Mr. Cook testified in a recent deposition - that he served probation there more than 10 years ago for a guilty plea to a burglary charge.

By Texas law, a person cannot become a police officer if convicted of a felony. Because Mr. Cook received deferred adjudication and completed probation, the burglary conviction did not stay on his record.

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