What to Know
- Amy Cooper, the white woman seen in a confrontation with Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper last May, faced a misdemeanor charge
- Prosecutors allege Amy Cooper called 911 and said Christian Cooper tried to assault her, before admitting to cops it never happened
- The video of the incident became a global viral sensation and helped spark a broader conversation about the misuse of police as a weapon
The charge against a white woman accused of falsely reporting that a Black man had threatened her during a wild caught-on-camera confrontation in Central Park last May was dismissed Tuesday after the Manhattan District Attorney's Office agreed to put her through a restorative justice program meant to address racial biases, officials said.
Amy Cooper faced a charge of falsely reporting an incident in the 3rd degree related to the viral incident.
Amy Cooper apologized within 24 hours after part of the exchange, captured by Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper, who has no relation to her and was the subject of her tirade, went viral on social media. Outrage mounted, with even elected officials calling for an arrest. She lost her job over it.
Last October, Christian Cooper released a statement that did not address the court hearing, but rather said in part that his focus "has been and continues to be on fixing policing and addressing systemic racism."
The video shows the now-former insurance company executive frantically telling the NYPD she was being threatened after Christian Cooper asked her to leash her dog while in The Ramble section of the park. Leashing is required in that area.
In the video, Amy Cooper is seen asking Christian Cooper to stop recording her, or she would call the cops and tell them "there's an African American man threatening my life." She repeated the statement several times, each time sounding more distressed, while appearing to call 911 dispatch.
Meanwhile, Christian Cooper didn't appear to move any closer to Amy Cooper. He previously told NBC New York that he's an avid bird watcher and was in a popular spot for birders the morning of the confrontation. He said he only asked Amy Cooper to put her dog on the leash in the area because it's mandated at all times.
When Amy Cooper refused, he said he offered her dog a treat and started recording the incident. Amy Cooper later told NBC 4 New York she overreacted but claimed the man was screaming and she felt threatened because she didn't know what was in the dog treats. She also denied accusations she was racist.
"I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family," she said in a phone call. "It was unacceptable and I humbly and fully apologize to everyone who’s seen that video, everyone that’s been offended … everyone who thinks of me in a lower light and I understand why they do."
Christian Cooper said at the time the only way she could have stopped the dog from eating the treat was to put it on the leash, adding, "At some point, she decided I’m gonna play the race card, I guess."
When Christian Cooper refused to stop recording her, Amy Cooper grabbed her dog's collar and moves away from him to call the police, the video shows. At one point, the dog appeared to nearly be choking from the leash pull. Amy Cooper voluntarily surrendered her dog to a shelter after the video sparked cries of animal cruelty, but she later was allowed to take the dog back home.
Christian Cooper said shortly after the confrontation that he continued recording because he wasn't going to be intimidated. "I'm not going to participate in my own dehumanization. I'm not going to feed into this," he said.
"We live in an age of Ahmaud Arbery where Black men are gunned down because of assumptions people make about Black men, Black people, and I’m just not going to participate in that," Christian Cooper told NBC New York after the video went viral.
Subsequently, when officers arrived, Christian Cooper had already left. More than 40 million people watched the video within 48 hours of its posting.
Mayor Bill de Blasio described it at the time as "racism, plain and simple."
While it was already known that Cooper called 911 on Christian Cooper in the May incident, the District Attorney's office said in October there was a second call, not previously reported, in which Amy Cooper again claimed Christian Cooper threatened her and also told dispatchers that he "tried to assault her." When police arrived, she admitted there had been no assault and the man did not "come into contact with her," prosecutors said.
“As alleged in the complaint, Amy Cooper engaged in racist criminal conduct when she falsely accused a Black man of trying to assault her in a previously unreported second call with a 911 dispatcher. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the police response to Ms. Cooper’s hoax," District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. "Our 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."
Vance's office said Executive Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi, the chief of the trial division, is personally handling the prosecution of the case.
“Using the police in a way that is was both racially offensive and designed to intimidate is something that can’t be ignored. Therefore we charged her,” said Illuzzi last fall, whose last high-profile prosecution sent Harvey Weinstein to prison in March for rape.
Illuzzi didn’t get into details on what actions Amy 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 previously said. The range of options could include some type of racial sensitivity training or a public awareness campaign.
On Tuesday, Illuzzi made the following record: "[Christian] Cooper did not wish to participate in the criminal justice process but we determined that the defendant’s offense wasn’t solely against one individual but was a threat to the community if allowed to go unchecked.
"The simple principle is that one cannot use the police to threaten another and in this case, in a racially offensive and charged manner."
Given the issues at hand and [Amy] Cooper’s lack of criminal background, we offered her, consistent with our position on many misdemeanor cases involving a first arrest, an alternative, restorative justice resolution; designed not just to punish but to educate and promote community healing."
According to Illuzzi, Manhattan Justice Opportunities engaged Amy Cooper in a "comprehensive, respectful program designed towards introspection and progress" in which they sent her to the Critical Therapy Center where they provided psychoeducation and therapy services "which focused on the ways in which [Amy] Cooper could appreciate that racial identities shape our lives but we cannot use them to harm ourselves or others. Psychoeducation about racial equity is woven into each therapy session to prompt understanding and reflection."
Illuzzi said that that Amy Cooper completed five sessions and her therapist reported that "it was a moving experience and that Ms. Cooper learned a lot in their sessions together" and therefore the court moved to dismiss the case.
In a statement on Twitter, Robert Barnes, attorney for Amy Cooper said: "After a thorough & honest inquiry, the New York DA's office dismissed all charges today against #AmyCooper. We thank them for their integrity & concur w/ the outcome. Others rushed to the wrong conclusion based on inadequate investigation & they may yet face legal consequences."