Cross Creek father charged, mother ordered to trial in child abuse case
By Scott Beveridge
Rana Cooper leaves district court Thursday followed by her husband, Richard, at right, after they faced charges in the alleged abuse of their daughter.
SLOVAN – A Cross Creek Township man was arrested Thursday on allegations he failed to protect his daughter from what prosecutors claim was horrific abuse she suffered over four years from her mother.
District Judge Gary Halvelka arraigned Richard Allen Cooper, 51, on a charge of endangering the welfare of children immediately after he ordered charges filed against the man’s wife, Rana, 46, to Washington County Court.
“I don’t think this child understood how horrific these things were,” said Traci McDonald, an assistant Washington County district attorney assigned to the case. “She thought it was discipline.”
Rana Cooper, of 159 Cooke Road, is charged by state police with simple assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children, and she is free on $100,000 unsecured bond. Richard Cooper, of the same address, is free on $10,000 unsecured bond.
The girl testified during Rana Cooper’s preliminary hearing Thursday her mother had done such things as choke her until she blacked out, had bitten her nose, made her eat cat litter, watched while she suffered bites on her arms and legs from a Rottweiler and held her head underwater for a few seconds in the bathroom sink.
“I was not allowed to go anywhere with the family,” said the girl, now 16. “I was embarrassing to the family.”
Police on Thursday claimed there were instances when the girl’s father witnessed her being disciplined and assaulted by his wife, and he failed to intervene.
State police Cpl. Robert Copechil said he interviewed many officials where the girl attended school and was able to verify her story through a guidance counselor’s notes and concerns about the victim a teacher had jotted in her journal.
“She came to school with injuries and with some excuse to explain them away,” Copechil testified at the hearing.
He said she would attended school wearing age inappropriate clothing that were too small for her size and would “eat her lunch as if she were starving.”
He said Washington County Children and Youth Services had investigated complaints about the girl, that the agency since has removed all of the Cooper children who are not adults from the Cooper home.
The girl said Thursday she was one of 8 children in the home, and was not permitted to eat until everyone else had filled their plates. Seven of the children are males. There also were three dogs and five cats in the six-bedroom house.
She said she would be made to stand or lay on the floor and hold uncomfortable positions, that at one point screws were spread across a board to hurt her legs if she dropped them to the floor. There was another allegation that the mother had attempted to sew the girl’s mouth shut, but stopped at one jab of the needle. The girl also said her mother hit her in the eye once with a belt buckle.
The girl said her mother would say, “None of this would be going on if I would stop being disrespectful.”
Rana Cooper left court telling reporters the dog that bit her daughter belonged to one of her adult sons.
“Yes. I am a good mother, a very good mother,” she said.
Her attorney, William Stockey of Pittsburgh, argued in court that there wasn’t any evidence to hold her on an assault charge.
Following the hearing, Stockey said the girl’s story is “incredible.”
McDonald said she, too, first doubted whether or not the story was true, and “realized many people feel the same way.”
She said, however, the medical records and witness statements “support the allegations.”