Case dropped after woman who called police on black birdwatcher in Central Park gets therapy
A white woman arrested for calling police on a black birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park has had her criminal case thrown out after completing a diversionary counselling programme that prosecutors said was meant to educate her on the harm of her actions.
Assistant district attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said Manhattan prosecutors were satisfied with Amy Cooper’s participation in the programme – described as an alternative, restorative justice solution – and were not seeking to pursue the case any further.
Such outcomes are standard for first-time offenders facing misdemeanour charges, Ms Illuzzi said.
Judge Anne Swern, presiding over the matter by video because of the coronavirus pandemic, agreed to dismiss the charge of filing a false police report and said she would seal Ms Cooper’s case file, in accordance with state law.
The confrontation last year, captured on video the same day Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, drew worldwide attention and was seen by many as a stark example of everyday racism.
Christian Cooper, the birdwatcher who recorded the video and was the subject of Ms Cooper’s 911 call, said he had no reaction to the case being dismissed.
Ms Illuzzi said he declined to participate in the criminal case.
There is no relation between Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper.
Ms Cooper’s lawyer Robert Barnes praised prosecutors for a “thorough and honest inquiry” into the allegations and said he agreed with the decision to dismiss the case.
“We thank them for their integrity, and agree with the outcome,” Mr Barnes said.
“Many others rushed to the wrong conclusion based on inadequate investigation, and for some, there may be legal consequences coming.”
Ms Cooper, 41, drew widespread condemnation and was fired from her job as a portfolio manager at investment firm Franklin Templeton after frantically calling 911 on May 25 to claim she was being threatened by “an African American man” who had confronted her for walking her dog without a leash.
When police called Ms Cooper back in an attempt to locate her in the park, she falsely claimed the man, Christian Cooper, had “tried to assault her”, Ms Illuzzi said.
The second call was not recorded on video, Ms Illuzzi said.
It was previously reported incorrectly that Cooper was the one who called 911 again.
Ms Illuzzi said that when officers arrived, Christian Cooper was gone and Ms Cooper admitted he had not tried to assault her.
Ms Illuzzi said Ms Cooper’s false claim could have led to a physical confrontation between police and Mr Cooper if they had got to him first.
“The simple principle is: One cannot use the police to threaten another and, in this case, in a racially offensive and charged manner,” Ms Illuzzi said.
Ms Cooper’s diversionary programme, run through a wing of the Centre for Court Innovation and a Manhattan psychotherapy provider, included education about racial equality and five therapy sessions focused on making her appreciate that racial identities shape our lives, but that they should not be used to cause harm, Ms Illuzzi said.
The prosecutor said Ms Cooper’s therapist described it as a “moving experience” and that she learned “a lot in their sessions together”.
To some, the dismissal of Ms Cooper’s case after a series of counselling sessions felt like a slap on the wrist – and a slap in the face.
Eliza Orlins, a public defender who is running to replace Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, tweeted: “This isn’t surprising. This is how the system was designed to function – to protect the privileged from accountability.”
Ernest Owens, a prominent black journalist, tweeted: “White privilege, 2021.”
In the video posted on social media, Christian Cooper claimed Amy Cooper’s cocker spaniel was “tearing through the plantings” in the Ramble, a secluded section of Central Park popular with birdwatchers, and told her she should go to another part of the park.
When she refused, he pulled out dog treats, causing her to scream at him to not come near her dog.
Ms Cooper also warned him she would summon police unless he stopped recording.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” Ms Cooper is heard saying in the video as she pulls down her face mask and struggles to control her dog.
“Please call the cops,” said Mr Cooper.
“There’s an African American man, I’m in Central Park, he is recording me and threatening myself and my dog … Please send the cops immediately!” she said during the 911 call before the recording stops.
Ms Cooper’s 911 call inspired New York legislators to pass a law making it easier to sue a person who calls police on someone “without reason” because of their background, including race and national origin.
San Francisco legislators passed a similar law.
Amid the backlash, Ms Cooper released an apology through a public relations service, saying she “reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions”.