My take on this is very simple: Convicted sexual offenders, especially those currently on sex offender registries, should never be cast in shows with minors or anyone with the same identity as their victims. And any theatre leadership or director that would knowingly allow that to happen, has no place being in those positions.
While I’ve seen some cases where community theatres were unaware that a sex offender was involved with their productions, that’s not the case at the Empress. The staff there knew that Cook was a convicted sexual abuser of minors but looked past that and cast him in shows with minors anyway. And worse yet, they ghostlit anyone who questioned their decision-making.
It also shows gross ignorance of what Cook was convicted for and why he may have been involved in that theatre in the first place.
Cook met his victim in 2012. Cook was his counselor at Brigham Young University during a weeklong program focused on the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After the program was over Cook would send explicit images to the teenager. In 2014, Cook met his victim at the LDS temple in Bountiful to “catch up,” and then went to a nearby park where the victim stated Cook sexually abused him. He then stated Cook abused him on multiple other occasions.
After being arrested, Cook pleaded guilty to one count of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor and three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old. All the charges are third-degree felonies. He was sentenced to four concurrent terms of zero to five years in prison. At this time, I do not know how long he served in prison but it appears he will have to register as a sex offender until the end of 2023, which would be ten years after his conviction.
It should be noted that at the time of his arrest, Cook was an assistant cheerleading coach for Alta High School and was set to be the head coach at Brighton High School, but Brighton fired him once he was arrested.
It’s clear that Cook put himself in positions where he would have access to teenage boys. A local community theatre is another and one of the few places where Cook could legally be in the direct presence of minors.
In Utah, community(or even youth) theatres are not listed as “protected zones” – which are off-limits for those convicted of a crime against a minor.
Cook would not even have to make it known that he was on the sex offender registry, but that didn’t matter since Bringhurst and others knew and still gave him access to a theatre space shared with minors.
It hasn’t been reported that Cook abused any minors at the Empress, if something had happened, the staff at the theatre would have absolutely been held responsible. The poor decision-making by Bringhurst and others put everyone at risk, not to mention a huge liability for the theatre. I’ve written about this countless times and how theatres need to do their due diligence when casting minors in shows with adults.
I know many who believe that second chances are deserved and that time served is punishment enough. But I argue that those who are convicted of certain crimes, shouldn’t be given access to the same environments they used to prey upon their victims. Cook used activities involving minors with adult mentors to groom and abuse his victim. The shows he was cast in at The Empress were the same type of environment. The fact that the staff there didn’t recognize that, is egregious.
I certainly hope those at the Empress and those at every other community theatre hear this and learn from it.