WILKES-BARRE — A former police officer and school district security guard pleaded guilty Monday to indecent assault of a child. Gerald John Cookus, 78, was arrested in April after police accused him of inappropriately touching an 8-year-old girl. He initially faced charges of indecent assault of a person under 13 and endangering the welfare of children, but the latter charge was dismissed when Cookus waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
Cookus, a former member of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, was most recently employed as a security guard at Plains/Solomon Junior High School. Authorities said the alleged assault occurred off school grounds.
Investigators said Cookus was observed touching the girl in an inappropriate manner then massaging her buttocks.
During questioning, Cookus denied sexually assaulting the girl and said he massaged the child’s buttocks because he thought she liked it and “was doing her a favor,” according to prosecutors. Cookus then told investigators the allegations are going to ruin his “life and his career as a law enforcement officer,” prosecutors said.
Authorities said Cookus also admitted to engaging in other inappropriate behavior.
Cookus, who retired from the Wilkes-Barre police department in May 1986 at the rank of lieutenant, helped establish the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch and once served as president of the State Crime Prevention Officers Association.
After retiring, he became director of security for Wilkes University before taking a job as a security officer and greeter for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District in November 2013.
Upon accepting Cookus’ plea to the felony charge, Sklarosky ordered the former lawman to have no contact with the victim, nor any unsupervised contact with minors.
Cookus will be required to register with state police as a sex offender for life and undergo sex offender therapy, the judge ordered. He was also banned from visiting any area children frequent — such as schools, parks, public pools or playgrounds.
Sklarosky allowed Cookus to remain free on $25,000 unsecured bail pending sentencing, set for Feb. 7.
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