Editor's Note — Last year, ex-agent Barry Cooper of Texas, called the “best narcotics officer in the country” by his former boss, set off a firestorm in the LE community when he announced plans to market a how-to video on concealing drugs and fooling police.
Activist or traitor? P1 members sounds off on Barry Cooper
By Paul J. Weber
The Associated Press
Related: Former Texas agent teaches how to hide, stash, and fool drug officers
BIG SANDY, Tex. — Barry Cooper sells a DVD on how to stash pot in your car without getting caught. This fall he will release a second one on how to keep police from raiding your home for marijuana.
Now for the kicker: Cooper is a former narcotics officer once considered among the top cops in Texas, where more marijuana is seized each year than in any other state.
The formerly straight-laced lawman has become a shaggy-haired militant for the legalization of weed.
Six months ago he released "Never Get Busted Again," in which the former star of West Texas' Permian Basin Drug Task Force gives tips on hiding marijuana (dashboards are rife with nooks and crannies) and throwing off drug-sniffing dogs (coat your tires in fox urine).
"I'm not helping them to break the law. It's clear the law is already being broken," said Cooper, 38, who left law enforcement a decade ago. "I will do anything legal to frustrate law enforcement's efforts to place American citizens in jail for nonviolent drug offenses."
Law officers regard Cooper as a traitor. And some pro-pot activists say Cooper's antics actually undermine their cause.
"This is like waving red meat" in front of police, said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "They take great professional umbrage with this. They are not our opposition, and we don't want to agitate them."
Federal drug agents said his tips won't keep them from finding your stash, and they advise drug users to save their $20 and use it to help post bail.
Richard Sanders, an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Tyler, brushes off Cooper's DVD as a sham. "He's just out to make money," Sanders said.
Though he will not reveal how much he has made, Cooper said he has sold more than 10,000 copies of "Never Get Busted," primarily over the Internet and at a few smoke shops.
Defense attorneys have also called him as a witness to testify about unlawful tactics he says police use to make drug cases. For instance, he testified about how drug-sniffing dogs can be made to "false alert," which gives officers legal grounds to search a car or a home. Cooper said he has used that ploy himself.
Cooper has begun filming a second DVD, called "Never Get Raided." He said he is also planning a documentary in which he plans to ply 50 partygoers with beer and marijuana and film what happens next. The aim, he said, is to prove that partygoers who get high are less dangerous than those who get drunk.
Frederick Moss, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, said Cooper appears to be protected by the First Amendment and probably cannot be charged with conspiracy or aiding and abetting because he has no direct relationship with the customers he counsels in how to break the law.
Cooper claims that as a law officer, he took part in 800 drug busts, seized more than more than 50 vehicles and $500,000 in cash and assets, and made a case against a local politician's son.
"He was among the best we had," said Tom Finley, who was Cooper's supervisor on the drug task force. "I don't understand why he would turn like this."
Cooper has owned car dealerships, started a limousine service, dabbled as a cage fighting promoter and taught in a church. He lives in a pine-canopied hideaway in this East Texas town of 1,400, where his home includes a framed picture in the kitchen of Cooper holding a joint.
It is the same town where Cooper was last a police officer in 1998, when he said his frustration with small-town politics made him quit law enforcement and begin rethinking the war on drugs.
He filed for bankruptcy in 2005, blaming a tough divorce and the stock-market downturn after Sept. 11. He is also suing for $10 million over a 2005 raid of his home that Cooper alleges left bruises on his children — an incident he says convinced him police are hurting more families than they help. (Cooper says sheriff's deputies came to take his children away after his ex-wife complained he was not sending them to school or sharing custody.)
"My critics want to kill my credibility by claiming I'm doing this to make money and trying to keep any sincerity out of this," Cooper said. "The people who have seen me and know my work, they know I'm sincere."