Concerns over Heather Cook’s drinking were shared with the Presiding Bishop’s Office by the Bishop of Maryland before her consecration as Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, a time line prepared by the Diocese of Maryland reports.
The 2 Feb 2015 document published on the diocesan website, clarifies who knew what and when about Bishop Cook’s drinking, and offers a time line of events from her standing for election in 2013 to the present. The facts outlined in the time line indicate diocesan leaders were perturbed over the Rev. Canon Heather Cook’s 2010 drunk driving arrest and that Bishop Eugene Sutton had urged her to come clean about her past, but a psychiatric evaluation and testimonials from the Bishop of Easton outweighed these concerns.
According to the time line, in late 2013 Canon Cook disclosed to Oxford Document Management, a firm conducting background checks on the finalists standing for election as suffragan bishop, that she had been arrested for drunk driving. Bishop Sutton was notified of the 2010 arrest and the two co-chairs of the search committee interviewed Canon Cook about the incident.
In January 2014 the final slate of candidates was presented to the Standing Committee of the diocese for approval. The diocesan time line reports the Standing Committee was informed that one of the candidates had a DUI arrest in her past. After discussion, the Standing Committee approved the final list of candidates. Bishop Sutton then spoke with the Rt. Rev. Bud Shand, Bishop of Easton, who recommended Canon Cook without “concerns or reservations.”
However, Bishop Sutton urged Canon Cook to share with members of the diocese during the public “meet and greet” sessions that she had been arrested for drunk driving. While she alluded to difficult times in her past, Canon Cook did not act upon Bishop Sutton’s request.
After her election in May as suffragan bishop, Bishop-elect Cook underwent a psychiatric exam, and the results were presented to the presiding bishop’s office. No psychological evaluation appears to have been made however.
In September at a pre-consecration dinner, Bishop-elect Cook appeared to be intoxicated. The diocese reports: “Bishop Sutton suspects that Cook is inebriated during pre-consecration dinner and conveys concern to Presiding Bishop. Presiding Bishop indicates she will discuss with Cook. Cook consecrated a bishop.”
In October Bishop Cook met privately with the Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews of the Presiding Bishop’s Office. Details of that meeting were not released to the diocese.
Bishop Cook on 28 Dec 2014 allegedly struck and killed cyclist Thomas Palermo. The diocese stated: “Cook collides with Thomas Palermo and leaves the scene for approximately 30 minutes. Palermo dies. Cook retains legal counsel. Cook placed immediately on administrative leave. Police forensic investigation begins. Cook enters treatment at Father Martin’s Ashley.”
The notation for January 2015 stated: “Title IV Disciplinary Process begun by the Episcopal Church and Office of the Presiding Bishop. State’s Attorney’s Office of Baltimore City charges Cook with negligent manslaughter, criminal manslaughter, negligent vehicular homicide while under the influence (i.e., breathalyzer reading of .22) and negligent vehicular homicide while impaired (i.e., “texting”). Bail set at $2.5M. Cook reports to Baltimore City Detention Center. Bail posted for Cook. Cook returns to re-start 28-day treatment program at Father Martin’s Ashley. Standing Committee asks Cook to resign.”
Due to the pending ecclesiastical Title IV hearings, the Presiding Bishop’s Office and Bishop Sutton are not permitted to discuss the case. The Washington Post stated it had attempted to contact Bishop Cook’s attorney, but received no comment in response to their query.