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Leerburg Articles Credibility Concerns Lead to Dismissal of Cases Involving Ex-Lake Dallas Officer

Credibility Concerns Involving Ex-Lake Dallas Officer

Credibility Concerns Lead to Dismissal
of Cases Involving Ex-Lake Dallas Officer

By Gayle Reaves
Staff Writer The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 1998

August 8, 1998

Denton County prosecutors have dismissed several cases in which former Lake Dallas police Sgt. Marcus Cook was the only state witness because of concerns about his credibility.

"When we sponsor witnesses, we want to be ethically and morally sure we are sponsoring credible testimony," said Heidi Mason, chief misdemeanor prosecutor with the Denton County district attorney's office.

"Frankly, there are some cases I dismissed because I knew he was no longer with the agency. I didn't know the specifics of why, but I felt like that was the right thing to do."

Mr. Cook could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Mr. Cook resigned his Lake Dallas job last fall during an investigation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education into possible falsification of his educational records.

Lake Dallas Police Chief Nick Ristagno, who has defended Mr. Cook In the past, said he agreed with the prosecutors' decision "in the light of our findings."

"I don't think there were that many cases," he said. Asked to detail his department's findings about Mr. Cook, Chief Ristagno declined to comment further, citing advice from his attorney.

Two weeks ago, the state law enforcement standards commission asked an administrative law judge to recommend removing Mr. Cook's license as a peace officer. Investigators presented evidence about a faked diploma from North Mesquite High School and a purported transcript in which the word "college" was misspelled.

Mr. Cook denied faking any documents or telling anyone he was a North Mesquite graduate. However, court documents show he has testified to that in civil suits.

The judge will issue a recommended decision, which is expected to be acted upon in September by the agency's governing board.

Long before the state commission began its investigation, Mr. Cook had become the center of controversy in the small town on Lewisville Lake.

Several other police officers, former officers and civilians raised legations that he mistreated suspects, mishandled his police dog and retaliated against those who criticized him. Lawsuits over those allegations are still pending.

Denton County District Attorney Bruce Isaacs said he told his prosecutors to go through and look at the files. If there were cases where we had corroborating evidence where we could prove the facts without him, to proceed.

"But if there were cases where there was nothing but his testimony, we tried to make deals on or they were actually dismissed."

Neither Mr. Isaacs nor his former chief felony prosecutor could recall any felony cases dismissed on that basis.

"I don't know of any information he gave that turned out to be false but questions had been raised," he said.

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