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Charging Coco: Why no felonies?

On the night of March 22, two Bedford teenagers were struck by an SUV as they walked on the side of a residential street. The driver ran over one of the victims, 18-year-old Dean Drukker, his father revealed for the first time this week. The driver then fled the scene. The standard charge for this crime is a felony. The prosecutor is pursuing misdemeanor charges. Maybe that has nothing to do with the suspect being a police officer at the time of the incident. Or maybe it does.

The SUV that hit Drukker and 17-year-old Noah Hickman was an undercover police vehicle registered to the Manchester Police Department. Within hours of the crime, police traced that SUV to Manchester Police Sgt. Stephen Coco, who lives in Bedford and who had attended a party on the street where the two young men were run down. They saw the vehicle leave that party. But Coco was not arrested until four days later.

Court papers show that Coco denied having driven the vehicle that night, and the police said they needed to be sure he was behind the wheel. Four days later they were sure enough to arrest him. Coco’s employer, Manchester Police Chief David Mara, was sure enough to fire him. A Manchester PD investigation of the incident concluded that “The only employee misconduct identified during this investigation was on the part of Stephen Coco and based on those findings, he was terminated,” Manchester police Lt. Maureen Tessier said in March.

Prosecutors have physical evidence, eye-witness statements, and a Manchester PD investigation. And yet Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway, brought in to prosecute the case, is pursuing misdemeanor charges, which could result in four months in county jail. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of 3-7 years in prison.

Drukker’s family wants a jury trial and felony charges. Were the suspect in this case just a random civilian, we suspect that is what the charges would be. This is a very serious crime. It does not appear that the prosecutor is treating it like one.

Eric Church
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