Prosecutor to be sentenced, removed from office today

Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper is being removed from office today as he pleads guilty to criminal charges.

Cooper’s sentencing hearing is set for 2 p.m. in the Hancock County Courthouse, where a special judge is overseeing the case.

Cooper and the prosecution in the criminal case have agreed that Cooper will resign, according to an amended plea agreement filed by special prosecutor Doug Brown on Tuesday.

"The parties have agreed that the removal from office will be accomplished by resignation effective July 17, 2019, and the defendant will provide his signed Notification of Employment Status of Prosecutor (Resignation) to the State of Indiana if the plea is accepted by the court and the defendant is sentenced," the agreement said.

Indiana law says any public officer convicted of a felony during the public officer’s term of office shall be removed from office by operation of law when in a guilty plea hearing, the person pleads guilty to a felony. 

Cooper pleaded guilty in April but is being sentenced today. He has retained the title and pay of prosecutor in the interim.

The sentencing hearing was intentionally scheduled for three months after the guilty plea, to allow Cooper time for treatment. The specifics of that treatment have not been released.

An hour after the sentencing hearing begins, long-time Chief Deputy Prosecutor Joe Villanueva will be sworn in as the interim county prosecutor, until the Johnson County Republican Party conducts a caucus to select an attorney to complete the remainder of Cooper’s term, through 2022. He has been prosecutor since 2009.

Cooper will not serve any time in jail, according to the agreement.

Cooper was sentenced to 540 days in jail, but the sentence was suspended and will be served on probation, according to the guilty plea agreement that Judge Dan Marshall will make a ruling on today.

He will serve his probation in Johnson County, where he lives and where the crimes occurred. The terms of his probation are typical of what someone on probation would be required to do, such as notify the probation office if he has any contact with any police officer, pay initial and monthly fees, go through counseling, such as batterer’s intervention or anger management, be subjected to a search of his person, vehicle and home at any time and not possess any weapons.

The probation would end in January of 2021.

Cooper will pay a $50 domestic violence prevention fee and also be ordered to pay restitution through the Johnson County clerk to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, but the amount of payment has not been determined.

He agreed to the plea agreement in April, then on Monday signed the revised plea agreement that spells out his resignation. If the judge doesn’t accept the agreement, the charges would proceed to trial.

The charges against Cooper, 51, stem from a March 4 incident involving his then-fiancee at his home in Trafalgar. A recording of the 911 call from that evening shows that she fled to a neighbor’s home, and the neighbor called police. She was battered and confined, and Cooper used her phone to send electronic messages while pretending to be her. 

The victim will not make a victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing today. She communicated to Brown that she remains satisfied with the plea agreement and wants the court to approve it. 

"She is aware of the defendant’s treatment progress in the last 90 days and expects the progress to continue while he is on probation," according to a court document filed Tuesday. 

"She is pleased that the defendant accepted responsibility early in the process," the filing said. "She waives her right to make a victim impact statement, indicating that she has already expressed her feelings to the defendant privately."

Some changes have been made to the plea agreement, but they are mostly technical in nature.

Cooper pleaded guilty to three felony charges of criminal confinement, identity deception and official misconduct, and a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery.

Under the proposed changes, the criminal confinement conviction will remain as a felony for three years, at which time Cooper can ask the court to change it to a misdemeanor. The official misconduct conviction will be a misdemeanor upon sentencing. 

The conclusion of the case could also trigger action regarding Cooper’s law license.

Cooper’s license to practice law as an attorney may be temporarily suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court, and he could face additional discipline regarding his license, according to the Rules for Admission to the Bar and the Discipline of Attorneys from the Indiana Rules of Court.

The executive director of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission will report the conviction to the Indiana Supreme Court and request that the lawyer be suspended, said Kathryn Dolan, spokeswoman for the Indiana Supreme Court.

Last week, the state stopped Cooper’s pay as prosecutor pending a review by the Indiana Office of Judicial Administration and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.