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EXCLUSIVE: Upstate NY officer speaks out after harassment, assault and stalking by chief

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Little did Officer Cody Ann Cook know when she sat down to do routine, administrative duties on her department’s work computer, it was the beginning of the end for her law-enforcement career.

The small police department in the Village of Painted Post, NY, had already shown its inefficiency with her pay and retirement accounting, along with handling discrimination within the department. She also didn’t realize her time at a PD computer in the near future would reveal another dark secret the department was hiding. Officers were using the work computer to view pornography.

And if pornography on a taxpayer funded work computer wasn’t bad enough, the pornography she was forced to endure was of the darker genre. Painted Posts’ officers appeared to have an attraction to bestiality, teen and child porn.

In the case, which is ongoing since she tendered her resignation from the Painted Post PD in 2008, Cook says she endured years of abuse that no officer should have to suffer.

“They called me repulsive names like, Jew bitch, fat ass, big titted wench, nigger lover and kike to name just a few,” she said. They even attacked her family saying, “Why are you getting your mother a ‘Christmas Present’ when we all know you are a fucking Jew?”

Under Chief Donald Yost, retribution toward Cook grew more targeted, and more intense.

“I was scrutinized on the job and off the job,” she said. “I was required to do tasks other officers weren’t required to do. I was followed — both on and off the job. I was on a traffic stop late at night, and Yost drove by me really slowly in his personal car. I called his tag into 911 dispatch so it was documented, it was chronic and absolutely unbearable.”

Cook says Yost wasn’t satisfied just dealing out emotional abuse. She said the situation took a serious turn for the worst when the Chief decided to take discipline into his own hands — literally. She describes how Yost reached his tipping point in his anger toward her.

“He had his knee between my legs and his one hand around my throat, and his other hand holding the arm of the chair I was sitting in,” she said. “I remember thinking that I was going to have to kill him or he was going to kill me. He was choking me over backwards in the chair. Thank God the back of the chair caught on an office filing cabinet that was behind me and prevented me from completely flipping over backwards on the floor.

“After months and months of chronic abuse and more than a year of discrimination that escalated into the assault, I called my Union and told them what happened. I filed an official complaint,” she said. “I became so stressed at this point, I began to shake, not sleep, and throwing up before shifts because I would have to see him. I dropped a ton of weight. I even began to sleep with a loaded gun under my pillow because I thought he would break into my home some night and kill me —seriously, this is what I thought.”

In an effort to ease tensions within the department, the Union negotiated an “exit strategy” for Yost in 2006. The new Chief, Robert Halm, who once referred to his predecessor in a Star Gazette interview, as “Yost is the Post” — likening the ousted chief to a respected institution, did nothing to ease Cook’s situation. She explains Yost’s retirement was all smoke and mirrors.

When Officer Cook discovered and reported the pornography to the new Chief, retribution in the form improper pay/retirement reporting, discrimination and harassment became magnified. Her dreams for a smooth transition in power and eventual relief for past aggressions toward her were quickly extinguished.

“The problems did not stop there,” she said. “Yost continued to stalk me even when he was no longer chief. He was allowed to keep his firearm, and kept a police radio in his car and still had access to the PD.  The Village did nothing to protect me as they had agreed to with the Union. To top it off, the new Chief, Halm believed women should all be subservient housewives. This guy was now my new boss.”

Even though she was an officer with a clean record who had gained support and respect in the community, that same respect was not shown to her within her own agency.

“I had my personal locker entered, and my medication accessed,” she said. The person who did so did not know what it was for, and proceeded to tell other officers and the community along with his wife I had ‘sexual lubricant’ in my locker, when it was actually hormone replacement therapy for headaches, dizziness, and hot flashes due to a hysterectomy and extensive surgery I had in 2000 where six pounds of tumors were removed. I had no ovaries and needed meds, but this officer violated my personal locker and HIPPA Laws and told others it was lube so I could have sex with my chief. Get this — this is the guy who replaced Yost and became the new chief — imagine that.”

She said things continue to decline at work until her resignation in 2008.

Years down the road, and with litigation in the case ongoing, Cook has suffered irreparable damage. Not only professionally and emotionally, but also financially.

“The lawsuit has cost me more than $15,000 out of my own pocket already,” she said. “I lost retirement, and I am 45 years old. Do you think I want to be a police officer at 60 years old to reach my 20-year retirement? I have 6.8 years total on the books, and I have worked as a LEO off and on since 1994. Does that make sense? Is that fair? I certainly have not earned my 20 years, but I should be around the 14-year mark. I’ve had a hard time paying bills. I lost my job due to the stress, and my insurance because it was so hostile I could not stay there a moment longer.”

Cook’s drive toward success caused her to retool herself professionally — of course, with a price. She wanted to go on to get her Masters in Social work to be able to counsel other officers and military personnel who suffer from PTSD like she does.

“I lost my credibility, my reputation and my career,” she said. “I had to go back to college to ‘re-career’ myself to the tune of $70,000 for my Bachelors Degree. I have to complete my Masters in order to get any viable, living wage job at this point. That is another $50,000 for graduate school.”

Because she lost her health insurance, her job-related medical bills from the years of emotional and mental abuse have taken their toll as well.

“I have paid out medical bills like crazy because I’m uninsured. Are these bills work related? You bet — stress equals illness; PTSD equals treatment costs. I also have Lyme disease. Between the PTSD and Lyme disease, it has cost me a lot — this is my honest reality.”

First her case appeared before the Federal Court and now the 2nd circuit of appeals in New York City will hear the case.

Cook isn’t sure when the case will conclude, but feels her story is important for people to hear.

“There needs to be a voice — a voice for justice, so ‘your’ mother, sister or daughter, doesn’t have to endure what I did,” Cook said. “You know, it is like beaten housewife syndrome. It is a slow, ever infringing process for an abuser to criticize and take away your fundamental rights as a human being. They belittle you and intimidate you, to the point you don’t feel anymore — you become numb. You are not worthy; you are stupid, paranoid and have no credibility. It takes your dignity and self worth, and turns you into a subservient person despite being in a field where you are strong, smart and very capable. The victim is vulnerable to the abusers’ moods, entitlements, and needs because they want to be liked, accepted, needed and respected — as well as the fact they need the job and income.”

Cook reflects back on the night she was assaulted and says Yost behavior is textbook behavior for an abuser.

“I remember the night I got choked in the police department. It was just one of many nights Chief Yost yelled, screamed and threatened me — that had been going on for a year at that point. I never imagined he would actually physically choke me. When he was done, and got up to walk out of the department, he stopped and turned to looked at me with this creepy smile on his face and said, ‘Have a nice night Cook,’ and left.

“I stayed up all night after I got home until the Union office opened the next morning and called Marilyn Burson at New York State Union of Police Association and told her my story,” she said. “Now here I am, nine years later, and I am still fighting for my rights and the rights of everyone else who comes after me. I still cry, and still have panic attacks, and PTSD — but I am stronger, and I have learned to manage it.  I keep plugging away trying to be who I want to be and work and do what I want to do. They don’t own me, I do!”

Cody’s mission to tell her story is one that will endure. During her recent interview for the LEO Roundtable, she describes her story in detail — her lawyer A.J. Bosman also speaks to the case.

Officer Cook has found meaningful employment with another NY village police department. Serving the community is what she’s wanted to do from a very young age, and though her integrity, perseverance and dedication, the community is better served.

Officer Cook is also active on social media as an advocate for first responders and those who suffer with PTSD. Her Twitter feed can be found at: @JUST1WMN. She can also be reached via her LinkedIn profile.

“Although I left the job for periods of time, I always return to do what I love most- serving the community,” she writes in a Facebook post. “May we all be safe in our pursuit of happiness, life and dreams. I certainly will do my best to help you achieve this through my performance of duties and I know all the other officers I work with have the same level of commitment. God Bless.”

 

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8 COMMENTS

  1. It is unfortunate that in this day and age this still goes on. I started in Law Enforcement in 1989 and was fired because of the good ol’ boy system. Back then you are not taught about EEO or your rights as an officer, you are expected to play. So I appealed my termination and won, when asked what I wanted I told them I wanted my job- I still loved my job….but I also told them I could not work with or trust these people again. I did not even know I could ask for money! Anyway- I had to overcome being black balled but have done very well in law enforcement for a very different agency. Two things I have learned- the good ol’ boy system is still alive and well, pick our battles carefully, AND your life is what you make of it! Good Luck with your career, go out and make a difference!

    • I am so proud of you Cody. I admire your strength being able to carry on and do the right thing here for yourself and many others in this country. I was in the work force for nearly 40 years. This does go on and the bottom result is when you speak up to the ones in authority that should be enforcing the law and protecting you, they put on a good show but end up victimizing you all over again. Definitely these other officers need to be charged and jailed and also need to be put in the registry. I know some people that has done way less then what these guys has done. For being accused our Public Defenders will tell them take a plea or else, rather u r guilty or not. I pray justice is served here, and all involved in Painted Post gets full punishment.

  2. Being from the Painted Post area, I am shocked and saddened by this story. I am so sorry that Officer Cody had to go thru this. Totally unacceptable. Painted Post should close that Police department. It has always been a laughing stock and waste of money.

  3. Hopefully everyone posting here will call the numbers at the end of the LEOROUNDTABLE.COM video. The Painted Post councilmen need to feel the pressure from the public they supposedly represent!

  4. The courts need to hold these good ol boys accountable for their actions. It appears they believe they are above the law. Pornography on a PD computer ought to be traceable, she documented incidents, why is this taking so long to settle…unless the good ol boys are part of the court system as well. What a shame Cook didn’t place a video camera in that office…couldn’t have disputed that. Based on information provided in this article I believe she should be compensated for what she’s had to endure from this department. Everyone involved should have to contribute from their retirement, and be made to reimburse Cook for legal expenses and suffering. This whole story is a disgrace to law enforcement. This department needs to be cleaned out.

  5. Damn, this was a nightmare. What sort of planet is that guy from? I was on a much larger department in the NY metropolitan area and we have had female Chiefs. In the seventies, women arrived on our job and were welcomed by most cops. Some jerks made some comments that the job was being overrun but they were old timers with little backing. Some were drunks and idiots. As an FTO, i trained several women and found them all to be well educated and dedicated. What bothers me is that Cody’s fellow cops were so nasty since you don’t want to anger someone who may be your backup when you are in trouble. There is no greater feeling when in danger to see another car arriving, no matter what gender or race.
    And yes, viewing porn on department computers resulted several times with dismissal. They were caught and charges brought because if you sign on the computer, your shield number is recorded.
    Sorry you went through that crap, Cody. I don’t think your union is very good.

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