A notorious drunk driver is back in the community after he pleaded guilty Thursday to breaching a peace bond by going into a liquor store in January and was sentenced to time served.

Michael Gerard Cooper, 55, entered the plea when he returned to Halifax provincial court from a psychiatric assessment at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth.

Dr. Grainne Neilson’s assessment found that Cooper was mentally fit to stand trial and did not qualify for exemption from criminal responsibility.

But the forensic psychiatrist said Cooper has significant brain damage from injuries he suffered in a 2004 crash in Cape Breton that killed a young couple in the other vehicle.

“The resulting brain deficits have made it difficult for Mr. Cooper to appropriately adapt to independent community living following a prolonged period of federal incarceration,” Neilson wrote.

“Due to Mr. Cooper’s multiple interdisciplinary mental health and social service needs, as well as judicial supervisory requirements, I would recommend a referral to the mental health court.”

Despite that recommendation, defence lawyer John Black said his client wished to plead guilty and be dealt with in regular court.

Judge Barbara Beach, after giving Black further time to reconsider the doctor’s recommendation, accepted the plea.

Crown attorney Susan MacKay joined Black in suggesting a sentence of time served for Cooper, who was in custody at the forensic hospital for 38 days.

Cooper got out of prison in January after serving all seven years of a sentence for impaired driving causing the two deaths. Although he is banned from operating a motor vehicle for the rest of his life, he told the Parole Board of Canada he would resume drinking and driving after his release.

The Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. advised its store employees to be on the lookout for Cooper and Halifax Regional Police notified the public that Cooper was a high-risk offender.

Cooper signed a two-year peace bond in November compelling him to stay away from alcohol. He cannot drink, buy or have alcohol in his possession, and he cannot be in any place where alcohol is consumed or sold as a primary business. He also must be at his residence between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

According to court records, Cooper is living on Glenview Drive in Dartmouth.

Staff at the liquor corporation outlet on Mumford Road in Halifax called police Jan. 28 at about 11 a.m. after Cooper walked into the store and sat down while talking on a cellphone. Cooper left the store without trying to purchase anything and was arrested at a nearby bus stop.

Liquor store staff heard Cooper say, “I’d like to buy something, but I’m not allowed.”

Cooper did not receive any neurological assessment while he was in prison. Neilson said his reintegration into the community is “proving to be a formidable challenge.”

The doctor said Cooper “will clearly require significant ongoing living and social supports and services.” She has made adult protection services aware of the case, she said.

Cooper told the judge his problems are entirely due to his brain damage. “Half the time I don’t even think about where I’m going or what I’m doing.”

He said he understands the conditions of the peace bond, “but whether I’m following them right or not, that’s why we’re here.”

The judge said there is nothing about Cooper’s situation that is straightforward.

Beach urged him to lean on his brother and other people in the community for assistance to ensure he doesn’t breach his conditions again.

“It is clear from my reading of the report … that multiple community-based resources will be required to assist Mr. Cooper as he embarks on life in the world outside of the institution.”

Source: The Chronicle Herald

Related stories:


Last updated on: 2014-03-12 | Link to this post