Cooper in court after altercation in New York’s Central Park
Prosecutors aim to deter others from ‘this racist practice’
An image from the video sho by Christian Cooper, shows Amy Cooper with her dog talking to Christian Cooper in Central Park in New York. Photograph: Christian Cooper/AP
Amy Cooper, the white woman charged with filing a false police report for calling 911 during a videotaped dispute with a black birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park, made a second, previously undisclosed, emergency call in which she added that the man had tried to assault her, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance called Cooper’s complaints a hoax and noted it was lucky that no one had been injured or killed that day as a result.
Prosecutors said the case may be resolved by her participating in a program to educate her and the community “on the harm caused by such actions”.
Cooper appeared by video at an arraignment but did not enter a plea to the misdemeanor charge.
The case was adjourned until 17 November to allow prosecutors and her lawyer to work on a possible resolution.
Cooper made two 911 calls about the encounter, prosecutors said. In the call captured on a widely seen video of their exchange, she claimed the man was threatening her, after he asked her to follow park rules and put her dog on a leash.
In the second call, prosecutors said Cooper falsely alleged the man had “tried to assault her”.
“Using the police in a way that was both racially offensive and designed to intimidate is something that can’t be ignored. Therefore we charged her,” said assistant district attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon.
Illuzzi-Orbon did not get into details on what actions Cooper might be required to take, but said the 40-year-old former investment portfolio manager would have to take responsibility for her actions.
The criminal process “can be an opportunity for introspection and education”, Illuzzi-Orbon said. The range of options could include some type of racial sensitivity training or a public awareness campaign.
In a statement, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, said his office “will pursue a resolution of this case which holds Ms Cooper accountable while healing our community, restoring justice, and deterring others from perpetuating this racist practice”.
“Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the police response to Ms Cooper’s hoax,” said Vance.
Cooper drew widespread condemnation and was fired from her job at the investment firm Franklin Templeton after frantically calling 911 to claim she was being threatened by “an African American man”, birdwatcher Christian Cooper (no relation), who had confronted her for walking her dog without a leash in the wooded area known as the Ramble, where he habitually heads with his binoculars to take advantage of an area rich in bird life, especially as it is a stopover in seasonal avian migratory journeys.
On the video Christian Cooper recorded, Amy Cooper and he sounded calm and appeared to keep a safe distance from her.
In the footage posted on social media, Christian Cooper claimed her cocker spaniel was “tearing through the plantings” and told her she should go to another part of the park. When she refused, he pulled out dog treats, intending, he later said, to lure her dog so he could hold on to him and make sure the owner put the animal on a leash. The rules about leashes are clearly spelled out on signs in the park and Christian Cooper later talked about occasionally having to confront dog walkers about flouting the rules there, thereby threatening the birds. The confrontation caused Amy Cooper to scream at him to not come near her dog.
Amy 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,” Amy 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 Christian Cooper.
On the phone, Amy Cooper can be heard saying, in an increasingly frantic voice: “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!” The video recording then stops. A 911 dispatcher provided prosecutors with a sworn affidavit regarding this and a subsequent call.
After the backlash, Amy Cooper released an apology through a public relations service, saying she “reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions”.
The encounter inspired New York state lawmakers to pass a law that makes it easier under civil rights law to sue an individual who calls a police officer on someone “without reason” because of their background, including race and national origin.
Cooper was charged under an existing false-reporting law.