Cook backs down from comments

January 12, 1995|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

Laurie S. Cook backed down yesterday from earlier televised statements that prosecutors and police had "put students up" to telling lies about her.

Ms. Cook's reversal came on the ninth and final day of testimony at a hearing to determine whether she will regain her teaching job at Northeast High School.

She said in an August interview with a WBAL television reporter, eight months after a jury acquitted her on a charge of child sex abuse, that students had been coached in their stories.

In July, Superintendent Carol S. Parham charged Ms. Cook with having sex with a student and with three other counts of misconduct. Dr. Parham recommended that the school board fire Ms. Cook. The teacher appealed that recommendation. The hearing, opened to the public at her request, began Dec. 2.

WBAL's interview with Ms. Cook was replayed yesterday for the hearing examiner, William M. Ferris, reporters and a half-dozen spectators, including the sister of the boy who accused Ms. Cook of having sex with him.

The interview, part of the local news magazine show "TV Hill," was recorded by a school employee the night it aired.

In the WBAL interview, Ms. Cook told reporter Tim Tooten that she believed "grown-ups down at the board are twisting what witnesses are saying" and that "prosecutors and detectives put students up to this and convinced them to lie."

Yesterday, Ms. Cook told P. Tyson Bennett, the lawyer representing Dr. Parham in the proceedings, that her comments had come at the end of a 50-minute interview when she was "clearly upset and angry."

"I got the feeling during my trial that prosecutors didn't care that the students were lying, and some of the lies were so outrageous," Ms. Cook testified yesterday. "I believe there was a climate of hysteria . . . and they were on a hunt to find teachers, and under that climate I believe the students created these accusations."

Asked by Mr. Bennett whether she believed prosecutors and police persuaded students to tell lies about her, Ms. Cook replied, "That's a harsh word. . . . I'll say no."

She also testified that during the investigation she received telephone calls from teachers who told her that "students at the school were being confronted with rumors and, when pressed, they'd back down, and then they would be pressured with arrest and prosecution."

No witnesses were presented to corroborate her statement.

The videotape was viewed over the protests of Ms. Cook's lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez.

For more than an hour, she argued that the videotape was irrelevant and should not be admitted as evidence. She also said her client should not be questioned about the videotape.

Mr. Ferris, the hearing examiner, ordered the tape sealed, saying that school board members who will review his findings should not view it. Instead, they should read a transcript of the interview.

Mr. Ferris and seven members of the county school board are scheduled to hear final arguments in the case Wednesday.

The eighth member of the board, Vice President Thomas Twombly, whose district includes the Pasadena school, has excused himself from any cases involving Northeast High teachers.

Ms. Cook has not taught at Northeast since her arrest in May 1993.

4 She was suspended with pay for more than a year.

Last fall, she was assigned to the Carrie Weedon Science Center pending the outcome of her appeal.

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