Barry Cooper runs his mouth for a living, always has.
He sold used cars. He owned Texas' first cage-fighting league. He's been a preacher, a lawman, and now, he wants to be a congressman.
But Mr. Cooper, a 38-year-old fast-talking former narcotics cop, is best known for changing sides in the war on drugs in December 2006, when he released Never Get Busted Again. In the DVD, he offered marijuana users advice on how to avoid arrest during traffic stops. Police greeted the movie with sarcasm, but no real concern.
Today is different -- Mr. Cooper begins shipping a new title, Never Get Raided, which teaches viewers how to buy, sell and grow pot without going to jail. He also gives tips for identifying undercover officers.
"Now that's getting a little close to home," said Richard Dickson, who served with Mr. Cooper on the West Texas Permian Basin Drug Task Force in the mid-1990s. "That kind of information affects all kinds of undercover agents. It puts all kinds of operations at risk, even on homeland security issues."
Mr. Cooper, who has filed as a Libertarian candidate in the 31st Congressional District in Central Texas, seems to have a talent for flaming the fuzz. Even so, his former colleagues concede he was a star narcotics cop.
In eight years, Mr. Cooper claims to have taken part in 800 drug busts, 300 of them felonies, and seized more than $500,000 in cash. Photos tell some of the story.
In one, with a buzz cut and overgrown mustache, he is kneeling next to a head-high heap of weed. The Polaroid is marked, "230lbs." In another, a young Mr. Cooper is standing thumbs-up behind PVC pipes stuffed with marijuana and a thick stack of $100 bills. A sign reads: Permian Basin Drug Task Force.
"He was very good, no doubt," said Mr. Dickson, who now works as an investigator for the district attorney's office in Yoakum County, which is about 50 miles southwest of Lubbock. "Barry always liked to have his picture made with all the dope, even if somebody else knocked down a load. I remember him commenting one time, 'Twenty years from now I'll tell my grandkids I got all this.' "
Mr. Cooper's former boss, Tom Finley, once called his protege the best drug interdiction officer in Texas, and perhaps the nation. Now a private investigator in Midland, he is more circumspect.
"He was one of the best we had, but we didn't have but two or three," Mr. Finley said last week. "Evidently things have changed a lot since then. He's just trying to make some more money."
On the Other Side
Mr. Cooper turned in his badge and grew his hair long about 10 years ago, after souring on the nation's drug laws and being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency for smuggling drugs out of Mexico.
He said he confronted DEA agents about the case.
"Let me tell you the drugs I smuggled from Mexico," he recalled telling an investigator. "The same drugs everybody smuggles from Mexico -- the same ones your informant and my ex-wife smuggled from Mexico -- they're called Valiums, and those little green pills that make you speed. Everyone grabs a box of those."
He was never charged with a drug crime. But over the years he has been arrested for allegedly making terroristic threats after a yelling match with a woman in a bar in Big Sandy, Texas. He pleaded guilty to making a verbal threat in that Class C misdemeanor case.He filed for but did not complete Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1995.
"The last three months of my law enforcement career, I had started smoking pot," the 38-year-old said recently, sitting at his kitchen table in Big Sandy, a small town east of Tyler. "And I noticed the people I had been arresting were nice people. They had a balanced checkbook, their kids made straight A's, and I was like, 'This drug is not making people crazy.' "
He advocates the legalization of all drugs. If the laws changed, he said, addicts would receive better treatment, drug-fueled crime would plummet and illegal drug empires would collapse.
It is similar to an argument advanced by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a 10,000-member organization of former judges, prosecutors, federal agents and police officers that opposes the war on drugs.
"We don't agree philosophically at all on these issues," said Jack Cole, executive director and a 14-year undercover officer for the New Jersey State Police. "He thinks he should be able to school people on how to break the law, we believe in changing the law."
Drug laws will be broken, whether or not the law is changed, Mr. Cooper said. He's simply trying to help people avoid jail time for non-violent crime.
"Americans are not going to stop growing it, they're not going to stop buying it, they're not going to stop smoking it, even if you continue to put them in jail," he said.
He said the discovery of seven fields and more than 25,000 plants near Dallas last summer illustrates his point.
Dallas Police Department Deputy Chief Julian Bernal doesn't dispute the public's appetite for marijuana, but he condemned Mr. Cooper's tactics.
"I think it's unconscionable for an ex-law enforcement officer to give tips to criminals," said Chief Bernal, who is over vice and narcotics. "I don't think there's any question he's putting officers in danger, and he bears full responsibility for that."
30,000 Copies Sold
Mr. Cooper says he sold 30,000 copies of his first DVD. Many were licensed for sale by the Disinformation Company, which distributes issue-oriented documentary films to such major retailers as Virgin Records and Barnes & Noble.
"The reason we got involved is because we don't approve of the very severe drug laws around the country," said Gary Baddeley, president of the New York-based company. "We felt like Barry was on to something. He's controversial because of the way he presents it, and it's a somewhat self-promotional film, but it highlights an important issue."
Unapologetic and bombastic, Mr. Cooper said he expects to sell twice as many of his second film. A self-proclaimed hustler, he said he is also working with a Hollywood studio to produce a reality show called 50-50 .
In it, he plans to invite 50 people to an airplane hangar in California, where he will roll film as they drink until drunk. Two days later, he plans to get the same 50 people stoned on weed. The point is to prove marijuana is safer than alcohol.
He claims to have a physician ready to write a recommendation for the drugs under California's medical marijuana laws. What he doesn't know is whether federal agents will raid the show.
"I hope the Feds come in and raid us during filming," he said. "That would make even better TV. We'll bond all 50 people out, and then we'll cut that into our film."
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