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Criminal probe is a blow to cop's legacy

By Tim Grace, Enterprise staff writer For 16 years, David Cohen served with distinction as an officer, then a sergeant in Stoughton's Police Department.

For the last eight years, the 39-year-old husband and father of three also has been a member of the Massachusetts bar and a practicing attorney. He's now a partner in the Stoughton law firm of Bierhans, Delamere & Cohen.

Cohen has dabbled in small businesses and even tried his hand as an agent with the National Football League Players Association.

But it wasn't until Cohen became the focus of a state probe into police corruption that he began making headlines.

In early March, Cohen, Police Chief Manuel Cachopa and patrolmen's union president and police officer Robert Emmett Letendre were indicted on a combined 15 felony counts.

Cohen is the central figure in the case. Of the 15 felony charges, he faces 10 - two counts each of false arrest, filing a false police report, assault and battery, and intimidating a witness; and single counts of conflict of interest and attempted extortion.

The charges against Cohen stem from his dealings with investment broker Timothy Hills.

Hills, who had his trading license stripped by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission five years ago, claims Cohen abused his police powers in order to collect a $10,000 debt for a law client.

George Jabour, special prosecutor with the Norfolk County district attorney's office, claims Cohen hounded Hills for days before turning up in his office wearing his police uniform, cuffing Hills, then having his truck impounded.

When Hills complained, Cohen is alleged to have used trumped-up bad check charges supported by false police reports and testimony coerced from third parties.

"These are serious charges," Jabour said when the three officers were arraigned. "These are dangerous men."

In the months since the indictments, Stoughton police have rallied around their own, tapping the police relief fund to help cover the trio's legal costs.

"Sgt. Cohen is respected by his colleagues in the department for his calm demeanor under pressure and as one who provides guidance and training to younger officers," union leaders wrote in a statement released shortly after the indictments.

Selectmen placed the three officers on paid leave and handed control of the department over to Cachopa's close friend and executive officer, Sgt. Christopher Ciampa.

Defense motions are slated for a hearing in mid-January. A trial date has yet to be set.

Neither Cohen nor his attorney, Richard Egbert, responded to requests for interviews in recent weeks.

One of three children born to former selectman Roy Cohen, a Rhode Island native and business owner, and his wife, Carole, David Cohen attended town schools and graduated from Stoughton High in 1984.

"I just remember he was a smart kid," said Peter Cave, one of Cohen's classmates.

In his yearbook, the adolescent Cohen described himself as "impatient," with a "bad attitude."

After graduation, Cohen enrolled at Stonehill College in Easton, but dropped out before graduation. He worked odd jobs in town until 1989, when he was sworn in as a police recruit.

Today, he lives with his family in a large colonial-style home on Eagle Rock Road. Its taxable value is $619,400.

On the police force, Cohen was recognized for bravery after a July 12, 1993, incident saw him rescue a suspected car thief.

Cohen was chasing the suspect when the man drove up an off-ramp onto Route 24 and, shortly after, his car collided head-on with a truck and started to burn. Cohen managed to free the man, then douse the flames with an extinguisher from his cruiser, all before firefighters could arrive.

"I believe he truly represents the professionalism of the police officers of this department," then-police Chief Philip Dineen said of Cohen at the time.

Cohen received a second commendation, this time for persistence, after he was dragged 50 feet through a parking lot trying to stop a drunken driver. The man managed to speed off, only to have Cohen catch up, smash the driver's side window, and pull him out of the car.

"The driver struggled with Cohen, but he managed to handcuff him as other officers arrived to help," said then-Lieutenant Cachopa.

In 1997, Cohen extended himself for a convicted drug dealer, Stephen Schuko.

Schuko had been convicted on federal drug-dealing charges for his part in shipping 700 pounds of marijuana from Arizona to Taunton. He was about to face sentencing when Cohen wrote a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, vouching for Schuko's character.

"Having grown up in Stoughton, I have known Stephen for years," Cohen wrote in his letter. "Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to get to know him on a more personal basis."

Cohen went on to point out Schuko's reputation in the community as a family man who had "respect for others, regardless of their station in life," and asked that jail time "short or lengthy," not be included in Schuko's sentence.

Cohen's letter was one of several sent to Gertner supporting Schuko, whose less than three-year sentence would be suspended, keeping him out of prison.

Judge Gertner said recently she had no independent memory of Cohen's letter. She said such pleas for leniency are not unusual, but agreed it was out of the ordinary for a police officer to submit such a letter in such a prominent drug-smuggling case.

In August, Schuko was convicted of federal drug distribution charges that he accepted delivery of 1,500 pounds of marijuana from Drug Enforcement Agency agents working undercover in 2004. The drugs had been shipped from Texas to Stoughton.

Awaiting sentencing at his home in Norton, Schuko did not respond to a request to comment on his relationship with Cohen.

In 1998, less than a year after he'd written his letter for Schuko, Cohen's adherence to police protocols was called into question by then-Norfolk County district attorney Jeffrey Locke, currently a Superior Court judge.

On Jan. 24, 1998, a landlord working on heating pipes found 850 pounds of marijuana stashed in a storage unit at 292 Page St., Stoughton.

Jonathan Berish called police after finding the drugs boxed in his warehouse and Cohen, in command of the shift, came to the scene.

According to recently unsealed court documents, Cohen wrote in his report that he called Stoughton District Court Magistrate Archie Cohain, told Cohain what Berish had found, and was given verbal permission to enter the building.

Cohen had the drugs seized and an officer was sent outside to watch for anyone approaching the storage unit.

What Cohen failed to do was tell anyone from the district attorney's office about the discovery or submit an affidavit to the court before conducting the search.

In a Jan. 28, 1998, letter from Locke to Stoughton Police Chief Philip Dineen, Locke criticized the department's handling of the case.

"It is my understanding that you or other officers of the Stoughton Police Department made a deliberate decision not to inform this office, its drug unit, or state police detectives assigned to this office, of this matter despite clear information that it may involve a protracted investigation," wrote Locke.

In his report, Cohen wrote he contacted a U.S. customs agent who, in turn, alerted other federal officials to the discovery of the marijuana.

No arrests were ever made in the case and the statute of limitations has expired. Stoughton police have to date refused to turn over any records related to their investigation of the matter.

According to the mini-biography posted on his law firm's Web-site, Cohen decided to become a lawyer "while directing traffic at an intersection in the freezing cold.

"I had been a beat cop for 15 years, and I was tired of my toes being numb," he wrote in the biography. So Cohen returned to Stonehill College, completed his undergraduate work and went on to enroll in the New England School of Law.

He graduated in 1997, passed the bar exam his first time, and landed a job in Howard M. Kahalas' law office. He joined Bruce Bierhans' practice in 1999.

Cohen worked days as an attorney, handling torts, personal injury and business law, then changed into his uniform to pull the 4 p.m. to midnight shift at the police station.

"I've lived in Stoughton my whole life, gone to Stoughton schools. I know everybody in town. I have arrested people I've gone to school with as a police officer and represented some friends as their counsel," Cohen was quoted saying. "They tend to come to me because they trust me as a hometown boy."

While awaiting trial, Cohen continues to practice law.

This guy has been a shady character, back from the days.
 
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