After park incident, lawmakers could make similar false police reports a hate crime

A woman who called police Monday claiming "There's an African American man threatening my life" has apologized. The confrontation happened after a bird-watcher asked Cooper if she could put her dog on a leash, as park rules required.

Amy Cooper could face penalties under existing laws

Three days after a woman angrily confronted a man in Central Park and then called police claiming “there’s an African American man threatening my life,” New York lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make false police reports against people of color a hate crime.

Explore»PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Woman who called police on black bird-watcher loses her job

CBS News reported the legislation was first proposed in 2018 by New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, and then was resurrected in the state Senate this week by New York Sen. Brian Benjamin, who said he felt unsettled by Monday's events that also sparked a firestorm on social media.

The state bill, now said to be gaining support, would largely increase the penalty for falsely reporting “certain criminal incidents against protected groups of people.”

An existing city law already makes it illegal to threaten to harm someone based on their race or other protected category. In the instance of a hate crime, more penalties would be added to a criminal sentence if a victim was targeted because of their race, religion or background.

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The woman involved in Monday’s incident, Amy Cooper, was fired from her job at the global investment firm Franklin Templeton after video emerged of her confrontation with a black man who asked if she could leash her dog as rules required in that area of the park.

Instead, she called police.

In the ensuing argument, video showed she yanked her dog by the collar several times and then falsely told emergency dispatchers that her life was in danger.

Christian Cooper, an avid bird-watcher, was in an area of the park known as the Ramble, where dogs are required to be on a leash, but Amy Cooper’s dog was roaming free.

Explore»MORE: Man confronted at park calls death threats against his accuser wrong

As Christian began filming the episode, Amy Cooper can be seen grabbing her dog by the collar and lifting the animal off its front legs as she marched toward the man.

“Please don’t come close to me,” Christian Cooper is heard saying as the woman advanced and pointed her finger at him, the video showed.

The two continued to exchange words until Amy Cooper, who was still holding the dog by the collar, retreated a few yards and called authorities.

The video showed Christian Cooper never moved toward the woman as she tussled with the dog.

When Amy Cooper finally got emergency dispatchers on the phone, she sounded distressed and out of breath.

She then told authorities an African American man with a bicycle helmet was recording her and “threatening myself and my dog.”

“Please send the cops immediately!”

At that moment, the video showed Amy Cooper hitching the dog’s collar again and the animal struggling against her grasp.

“I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble,” Amy Cooper yelled to the dispatcher while struggling to leash the dog. “Please send the cops immediately!”

Benjamin, a Democratic state senator, described the incident Thursday as “terrorism.”

“This feels like terrorism to me, to be really frank, because it’s just something that’s so scary,” he told CBS News.

In a later statement to the network, Benjamin said he worried that if Cooper had not been filmed, “this woman may have been given the benefit of the doubt, and that this man could have faced serious, perhaps life-threatening consequences.”

The incident happened on the same day that a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., was filmed pinning a handcuffed suspect down by kneeling on his neck. George Floyd, a black man suspected of using a fake $20 bill at a store, later died at the hospital. Four officers have since been fired and the FBI is investigating, but as of Thursday no charges had been filed in the case.

Meanwhile, New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, which polices discrimination and harassment in housing, employment and all public accommodations in New York City, launched an investigation Tuesday into the Central Park incident.

If Amy Cooper is found at fault by the commission, she could face fines or sensitivity training, or could be made to pay damages to Christian Cooper.

“Efforts to intimidate black people by threatening to call law enforcement draw on a long, violent and painful history, and they are unacceptable,” Sapna Raj, deputy commissioner of the commission’s law enforcement bureau, said in a statement. “We encourage Ms. Cooper to cooperate with the Commission and meaningfully engage in a process to address the harm that she has caused.”

Cooper issued an apology for her actions the next day, but has received death threats because her Facebook profile was shared by social media activists who sought to shame her.

“I want to apologize to Chris Cooper for my actions when I encountered him in Central Park yesterday. 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.”

Christian Cooper has since accepted her apology and immediately denounced the threats made against his accuser.