Canon Describes Accident Scene

Adapted from a statement from the Diocese of Maryland

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is guided throughout this tragic situation by three core values: accountability, compassion, and the rule of law. As we all process and come to understand this tragedy, these values will be our focus.

The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, diocesan bishop of Maryland, invited the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland clergy to a closed meeting to give them information about what we know of the tragic accident, including police and church disciplinary investigations. This meeting allowed clergy to express their feelings, ask questions, and get information to share with their congregations.

The following is a summary of information shared with clergy at the Jan. 6 meeting at the Claggett Center, Buckeystown, MD.

A report on events the day of the accident, Dec. 27, in which Thomas Palermo, 41, was killed while riding his bike in northern Baltimore, was given by the Rev. Scott Slater, chief assistant to Diocesan Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton to more than 100 clergy.

At 2:59 p.m. Slater received a call from Heather Cook. She said she thought she had hit a bicyclist and was in shock. When Slater arrived at the accident scene around 3:10 p.m., police crime scene tape was surrounding Cook’s car and she was sitting in a patrol car. He immediately identified himself to an officer, provided his identification and business card. He told the officer that Cook had called him minutes before.

During the course of the afternoon Slater called Bishop Sutton and informed him of what he knew; gave a detective his statement regarding his and Cook’s phone conversation; and contacted Jeff Ayres, diocesan chancellor (attorney), and informed him of the incident. He did not speak to Cook at that time.

At 5:27 p.m. that evening Slater received a call from the Baltimore City Police Department asking him to come pick Cook up.

Once at her apartment, he went in for a few minutes and talked with Cook and a friend of Cook’s who had just gotten there to check on her dog and to make sure she wasn’t alone. Slater focused his conversation pastorally on her, as a child of God. They prayed together and he went home.

On Monday evening Slater was asked to return to the police station to give a recorded statement. He answered every question as thoroughly and completely as he could recall, including details of his and Cook’s conversation during the car ride to her apartment.

Out of respect for the ongoing police investigation, for the Palermo family, and for Cook, Slater did not share details of his conversation with Cook in the meeting with clergy today. Slater and other staff members are cooperating fully with the police investigation and the Title IV [PDF] investigation begun last week by the Presiding Bishop’s office. We cannot disclose details of that investigation either, as they are constrained by church disciplinary procedures under canon law.

Cook is now in good hands and receiving care that will hopefully help her on her journey forward.

“Heather and I were in a professional colleague group prior to her election. I consider her a friend as well as a colleague. I am deeply saddened for her as well the Palermo family. This is a terrible tragedy,” Slater said.

Cook remains on administrative leave from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. She is receiving pay and benefits in accordance with standard denominational practice. Since she is a bishop it falls under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to handle disciplinary proceedings regarding Cook’s actions. As stated above, these proceedings have begun. The disciplinary process, known internally as Title IV for the section of the Church’s Constitution dealing with discipline procedures, is in place to objectively investigate and determine appropriate action.

Please continue to keep the Palermo family and Heather Cook in your prayers. We are urging congregations to designate a Sunday offering for the Palermo family fund.

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