Three good calls have now been made in the criminal case involving former Manchester Police Sgt. Stephen Coco. The big call, however, needs to come from prosecutor Marc Hathaway, whose self-described “tactic” of dropping the original felony charge of hit-and-run was summarily batted down this week.
That good call was made by Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson who clearly considers this a matter more serious than the misdemanor plea-bargain proposal put before her by Sullivan County Atty. Hathaway and defense attorney Mark Howard.
The first good call was made by the Bedford police who initially charged Coco with felony hit-and-run for allegedly driving his car off the road and into two teenaged boys before driving off again. For that type of crime, that was the appropriate charge.
The second good call was made by Manchester Police Chief David Mara in dismissing Coco from the force. Leaving the scene of an accident, even if Coco’s claim is true that he didn’t know he had struck the boys, is not something police officers ought to do without severe consequences.
Judge Abramson’s decision reflects the seriousness of the matter and the need for the public and its legal system to know all the facts before any resolution is made in this case. Mention has now been made in court that the defendant had consumed alcohol at some point before the accident, which was somehow caused by Coco reaching for his cell phone.
Questions need to be raised and answered, in the open, on those points and others. Far better for the system and public confidence in it for them to be answered in a trial, rather than in a plea-bargain.
That is the call Atty. Hathaway needs to make. While we think he tried to get a serious sentence (a year in jail, with no possibility of home confinement, wouldn’t be easy for an ex-police officer), Hathaway should now realize that the same public perception that caused him to be brought in from another county now requires him to fully prosecute the case.
The public can thank Judge Abramson for sending him that message, loud and clear.