Amy Cooper Faces Charges After Calling Police on Black Bird Watcher

By Jan Ransom

Ms. Cooper was captured on video calling the police after Christian Cooper asked her to keep her dog on a leash in Central Park.

Amy Cooper was captured on video reporting Christian Cooper to the police.
Amy Cooper was captured on video reporting Christian Cooper to the police.Credit...Christian Cooper

When Amy Cooper, a white woman, called 911 from an isolated patch in Central Park where she was standing with her unleashed dog on Memorial Day, she said an “African-American man” was threatening her life, emphasizing his race to the operator.

Moments before Ms. Cooper made the call, the man, Christian Cooper, an avid bird-watcher, had asked her to leash her dog, and she had refused.

On Monday, Ms. Cooper was charged with filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, the latest fallout from an encounter that resonated across the country and provoked intense discussions about how Black people are harmed when sham reports to the police are made about them by white people.

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The footage shows Amy Cooper calling the police on Christian Cooper in Central Park after he asked her to keep her dog on a leash. The video was posted to Twitter by Mr. Cooper’s sister.

The pending criminal charge against Ms. Cooper appears to be among the first that a white person in the United States has faced for wrongfully calling the police to make a complaint about a Black person.

“We are strongly committed to holding perpetrators of this conduct accountable,” said Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney.

Ms. Cooper, who was issued a desk appearance ticket on Monday, is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 14. If convicted, she could receive a conditional discharge or be sentenced to community service or counseling rather than jail time.

Ms. Cooper could not be reached for comment on Monday, but her lawyer, Robert Barnes, said in a statement that she would be found not guilty and he criticized what he called a “cancel culture epidemic” for a rush to judgment.

“She lost her job, her home, and her public life,” Mr. Barnes said. “Now some demand her freedom? How many lives are we going to destroy over misunderstood 60-second videos on social media?”

Mr. Cooper, who has expressed deep ambivalence about the severity of the public response to Ms. Cooper’s actions, said on Monday that he “had zero involvement” in the district attorney’s case against her.

Asked to comment on the pending charge, he said, “I have no reaction.”

People are rarely charged with filing a false police report, legal experts said, because the authorities do not want to discourage the reporting of crimes and because it can be difficult to prove that a person made a false report knowingly.

But experts said that the evidence in the case against Ms. Cooper was strong and that it could have broader implications in other instances of white people making false police reports against Black people.

“To the extent that this woman was arguably deploying racial stereotypes and weaponizing them, it will make people think twice,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor and a retired federal judge. “It is a big deal.”

Lucy Lang, a former Manhattan prosecutor and the director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that filing a false report was “a very troubling crime.”

Adding race to the equation, she added, created “just an absolute recipe for a tragic disaster.”

In a separate move meant to address the problem of Black people being falsely reported to the police, New York state lawmakers approved legislation last month that allows people “a private right of action” if they believe someone called a police officer on them because of their race, gender, nationality or other protected class.

The confrontation between Ms. Cooper and Mr. Cooper, who are not related, occurred when she encountered him in the Ramble, a semi-wild area where dogs must be leashed and hers was not.

Mr. Cooper said he asked Ms. Cooper to leash her dog. When she refused, he said, he tried to lure the dog with treats in hopes of compelling her to restrain her pet.

The encounter turned ugly when Ms. Cooper told Mr. Cooper that she was calling the police and that she planned to tell them an African-American man was threatening her life.

Mr. Cooper’s camera captured what happened next.

“I’m in the Ramble, there is a man, African-American, he has a bicycle helmet and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog,” Ms. Cooper, gripping her dog’s collar tightly, says in a hysterical tone to the 911 operator.

Then, before ending the call, she adds, “I am being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately!”

“Thank you,” Mr. Cooper says after she puts her dog’s leash on, just before the video ends.

ImageChristian Cooper is a prominent bird watcher and works in communications.
Christian Cooper is a prominent bird watcher and works in communications.Credit...Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Shortly after video of the episode went viral, Ms. Cooper surrendered her dog, Henry, to the cocker spaniel rescue group she had adopted him from two years earlier. She and the dog have since been reunited.

Ms. Cooper, 41, who had been a head of insurance portfolio management at Franklin Templeton, was fired from her job after the confrontation with Mr. Cooper.

She also issued a public apology and tried to explain her response.

“I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions when, in fact, I was the one who was acting inappropriately by not having my dog on a leash,” Ms. Cooper said in the statement.

She added that when Mr. Cooper said she would not like what he was “going to do next” and then offered her dog treats, she assumed he was threatening her. Mr. Cooper said the remark was merely meant to signal that he planned to offer the treats.

“I assumed we were being threatened when all he had intended to do was record our encounter on his phone,” Ms. Cooper said.

Sarah Maslin Nir contributed to this report.