Gwinnett Daily Post
Foster father exonerated in child molestation case
By Andria Simmons
LAWRENCEVILLE –A jury Wednesday found a former foster father not guilty on all counts of child molestation, two years after being accused by six boys.
After the verdict was read, 35-year-old Erik Adam Cooper rushed to embrace his wife, who broke down in sobs, and then his two attorneys. Prosecutors had argued that Cooper inappropriately touched four brothers and two other boys between the ages of 7 and 12 while he was a foster father from October 2001 to May 2002.
Cooper believes the allegations were coached by another foster parent who took custody of several of the brothers. Cooper believes she wanted to prevent him from adopting their brother. The boys were then coerced into making statements by overzealous police officers and officials with the Department of Family and Children Services in subsequent police interviews, Cooper claimed.
“I hold no animosity toward the children themselves, they are victims of the state and of corrupt police investigations,” Cooper said.
Cooper, who cared for 42 children before ceasing to be a foster parent in March 2002, said Gwinnett County DFCS turned against him when he began to criticize policy violations and incompetency in the department.
In January 2002, Cooper sued the state for the right to reform adoption law for foster children. He wanted foster parents to be able to work directly with biological parents to secure adoptions, thus avoiding DFCS’ “bureaucratic” red tape. The suit was dropped when Cooper was arrested.
Cooper’s initial goal in becoming a foster parent was finding just one child to adopt, but Cooper said he had changed his mind and wanted to adopt all four of the brothers prior to the child molestation accusations. The boys were 7, 10, 11 and 12 at the time. The other two boys were 7 and 8 years old, Cooper said.
Three female jurors cried as the verdict was read in open court. After the trial, juror Phillip Welch, 35, lingered to talk with defense attorneys Terry Lloyd and Doug Peters. Welch said he acquitted Cooper because he doubted each of the boys’ prior statements to police and to DFCS officials when they were asked whether they had been molested.
“These kids constantly said ‘no’ and then they said ‘yes,'” Welch said. “Every one of them, at some point they all of the boys said ‘no.'”
Cooper said he will not pursue becoming a foster parent again. He will focus instead on starting a new family with his wife, Alison.
“My wife and I are looking forward to having children of our own and to moving on, wherever that may take us,” Cooper said.