A Henrico County School Board member on Wednesday was convicted of driving under the influence back in August.
Roscoe Dennis Cooper III, the school board’s vice chairman, entered a not guilty plea in Henrico General District Court to the misdemeanor DUI charge, but he did so with a stipulation that the facts of the case were sufficient to convict him.
His plea was part of a deal with prosecutors. A second charge accusing Cooper of refusing to take a breathalyzer test will be dismissed at a December hearing.
Cooper, 43, did not make any statement during a brief Wednesday court appearance.
Steven Benjamin, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Cooper’s plea is very similar to an Alford plea. Under an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty but continues to maintain his innocence despite acknowledging the evidence is sufficient to convict him, Benjamin said.
Cooper’s plea is slightly different from an Alford plea in that he pleaded not guilty, Benjamin said. But the effect of Cooper’s plea is the same as an Alford plea because it led to a conviction, Benjamin said.
The reasons for pleading not guilty while agreeing to a conviction vary, Benjamin said. They can include an accused’s concerns about public perception, collateral consequences, or their own self-esteem, Benjamin said.
Cooper was stopped on westbound Interstate 64 just past the Gaskins Road exit around 1 a.m. on Aug. 5 by a Virginia state trooper.
Cooper’s vehicle was stopped after he was seen driving in two lanes, according to a criminal complaint filed by the state police. The trooper said Cooper “smelled of alcoholic beverage.” The school board member was “fumbling around,” appeared nervous, and couldn’t find his license or wallet during the traffic stop, the complaint says.
Cooper told the trooper he had two drinks, and he showed impairment during a field sobriety test, the complaint says. Cooper blew a 0.10 in a preliminary breath test, according to the criminal complaint. The level at which it’s illegal to drive in Virginia is 0.08 and above.
A preliminary breath test is typically conducted with a hand-held device, but the results are not admissible in court, according to state police Sgt. Stephan Vick. After being arrested for DUI and taken to Henrico County Jail, Cooper was given another breathalyzer test, the complaint said.
“He barely blew on the tube three times, resulting in a deficient sample,” the complaint says.
Judge George Barton Chucker found Cooper guilty of DUI and gave him a $250 fine. Chucker also sentenced Cooper to six months in jail, but all six months were suspended. Chucker suspended Cooper’s drivers license for a year, and the judge approved giving him a restricted license.
“His position as a school board member was not relevant to the prosecution,” said Robert C. Cerullo, a deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Powhatan who prosecuted the case. “There was enough evidence to go forward (with the case), and that’s what we did.”
Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor said in an August news release that a Henrico Circuit Court judge appointed the Powhatan Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to handle the case after she requested the assignment of a special prosecutor. Taylor didn’t specify her reason but such appointments are usually granted when a real or perceived conflict of interest exists. Both Taylor and Cooper are elected public officials serving the same locality.
“He accepted responsibility for what he did,” Chris Bain, Cooper’s attorney, said after the hearing. “He hopes to move on in a positive direction going forward.”
Cooper, who represents the Fairfield District, is also the pastor of the Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church in Henrico.