Health director Cooper resigns

Ex-employee speaks out

Lori Cooper, center, after the Montezuma County Public Health Department received an award for “Project Public Health Ready.” Opal Stalker, left, and Karen Dickson joined Cooper for the photo. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal file photo

Lori Cooper, center, after the Montezuma County Public Health Department received an award for “Project Public Health Ready.” Opal Stalker, left, and Karen Dickson joined Cooper for the photo.

Montezuma County Health Department Director Lori Cooper resigned her post Friday after pleading guilty to a drunken-driving charge.

An interim director is expected to be named this week.

The news was announced at a County Commissioners meeting Monday after Sherrie Blackmer, a former employee at the health department, raised the issue.

Blackmer, a 15-year employee of the agency, said she was one of about a dozen whistleblowers who left the department between 2007 and 2009 after county officials failed to investigate multiple complaints about Cooper.

Blackmer said that she’d seen evidence of Cooper’s drinking.

“A lot of people are thankful that it’s over now,” Blackmer said.

Appearing before Montezuma County Judge JenniLynn Lawrence last week, Cooper pleaded guilty to DUI on March 20. According to prosecutors, she was also convicted on a DUI charge in Payson, Ariz., on March 12, 2013.

Under the proposed plea agreement, Cooper could face a mandatory minimum jail term of 10 days, pending a drug and alcohol evaluation. Her sentencing was scheduled for May 6 at 1:30 p.m.

Director of the county health department since 1998, Cooper, 58, of Dolores, was arrested on March 5, charged by the Cortez Police Department with DUI, DUI per se, weaving and open container in a motor vehicle, according to court records.

Court records also reveal that 911 dispatchers received a REDDI (Report Every Drunk Driver Immediately) call for a vehicle driving westbound on Highway 160 at a “slow rate of speed” and “weaving” on the night in question. Police stopped Cooper near East Empire Street and North Dolores Road just after 10 p.m.

Police reported that Cooper swayed in a circular motion while talking to officers and refused to perform any voluntary roadside maneuvers at the scene, police said.

Police also allege that a 200-milliliter bottle of vodka, three-quarters full, was in plain view on the passenger side floorboard, according to court records.

A Breathalyzer test at the police station indicated that Cooper had a blood alcohol content of .248, according to records.

Undersheriff Lynda Carter said Cooper was released from the jail on March 6 after posting a $1,000 bond.

Cooper’s attorney, Jill Carlson, said letters of support from health department employees have been submitted on her client’s behalf, but she dismissed reports that employees were pressured into writing the letters.

“My client didn’t even know about the letters until after they were written,” Carlson said. “No threats or promises were issued.”

A Montezuma County sheriff’s official said Cooper was enrolled in the department’s pretrial services program for a second DUI offense.

Designed to enable defendants to return to normal life while awaiting trial, the pretrial program requires suspects to comply with court-ordered conditions such as random drug or alcohol testing.