Visitors to the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse always encountered Stan Cooper and his fellow court security officers. You couldn't avoid them if you tried.
Distinguished and punctual, and above all professional, Cooper took pride in his duty from his earliest days in law enforcement as a city police officer until the final moment of his life on Monday morning. A tall man with white hair, the 72-year-old Cooper retired in 1991 as a motorcycle-riding sergeant in Metro's traffic division. He traded his police uniform for the navy blue sport coat the security officers wear at the federal courthouse. For years he commuted to work from Sandy Valley, where he enjoyed his horses and the desert solitude.
On Monday, a man identified by sources as Johnny Lee Wicks entered the courthouse wielding a shotgun. Cooper and fellow officers did their jobs: They stopped him from entering a building with hundreds of federal employees, as well as the offices of judges and U.S. senators. Wicks, 66, was shot and killed by federal officers across the street from the courthouse.
Cooper was fatally wounded doing a job he enjoyed and took very seriously.
"We were always on our guard, always on alert, watching the front door and scanning visitors constantly," Cooper's friend and former Metro and courthouse colleague Dave Freeman said. "Those people coming through got scanned by three or four of us. They hired us because of our experience."
It would be a mistake to diminish the duties of the security officers. Far from rent-a-cops, they have amassed more than 1,000 years of law enforcement experience from downtown to the streets of New York. They undergo extensive background checks, are considered "special deputy" members of the U.S. Marshals Service, and bring decades of real-world expertise.
They're real pros, and it shows in the friendly, relaxed and focused way they greet regulars to the courthouse.
Cooper was among the best.
Freeman was happily retired after spending 31 years at Metro. But his friend Cooper talked him into joining courthouse security prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Freeman trained Cooper to become a motorcycle officer in the department's traffic division. Then Cooper helped bring Freeman aboard at the courthouse.
"What a tragedy," Freeman said Monday. "That was a man that was admired by all of Metro. He was known as a gentleman. He was a very quiet, reserved person. I never saw him get involved in anything that would detract from his character. This man was admired and respected."
Given Cooper's solid reputation, Freeman felt comfortable returning to work on a part-time basis. After the Sept. 11 attacks, many of those jobs became full time.
"Stan said, 'Come over and work at the federal building. We've all got over 30 years in law enforcement,'" Freeman said. "'We can offer a whole millennium of police experience to protect this building.' And we did protect that building."
As head of Metro's Internal Affairs Bureau, Lt. Loren Stevens selected Cooper for the challenging duty of investigating fellow police officers and the department's civilian employees.
"He was a very honorable, very honest guy," the retired Stevens recalled. "There are a lot of guys who go through their career without any flash, but they get the job done. Stan always got the job done. He was one of my picks in Internal Affairs. It's a difficult job that not everybody can do and do right."
Stevens worked with Cooper at the old city of Las Vegas Police Department, where new officers made a pittance and qualified for government housing. To earn extra money to support his family, Cooper cleaned drive-in movie theaters.
"He was just a good man," Stevens said. "Nobody for an instant thought he was anything but an honorable guy."
Stan Cooper maintained his honor to the end.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.