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Assault and Flattery

A way of life at the CMPD

Here's a joke I bet you haven't heard. It goes like this: When is it OK to beat up your girlfriend? Answer: When you're a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer!Didn't think that was funny? Well, neither do I. But city leaders and those who run the police department apparently do. There's no other rational reason to explain why Officer Gina Cook is still employed by the department.

In January, according to an internal police report obtained by Creative Loafing, Cook drove her K-9 unit patrol vehicle to her ex-girlfriend's apartment and kicked down the door when the woman refused to let her in.

The ex-girlfriend, another Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer named Rebecca Serena Garber, had been asleep with a third woman, whom Cook attacked. When Garber tried to stop the attack by putting herself between Cook and the other woman, Cook punched Garber in the face and head several times before throwing her on the bed and strangling her until she couldn't breathe.

"I know she can't breathe," Cook growled when the third woman pointed out that Garber was struggling for air, according to the report. After the attack, Cook drove away from the scene in her patrol vehicle.

Cook didn't have a prior record, and in court, she got off easy. She was given deferred prosecution for two charges of communicating threats and an assault charge. The breaking-and-entering charge against her was dismissed by the judge. She's scheduled to appear before a judge again in March 2003 to discuss her progress. Police spokesperson Keith Bridges said Cook was "disciplined," but that the department has no plans to terminate her. What sort of discipline she received from the department is unknown because personnel records aren't available to the media.

Seven months later, Cook is not only still employed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, she was also the subject of a full-page personal profile in the Charlotte City Employees' June newsletter, which is distributed to thousands of city employees. The piece chronicled Cook's rise to the highly competitive K-9 unit in near-heroic, glowing terms.

"In a profession where size and physical strength can be advantageous, Cook's self-confidence and presence unquestionably overshadows her small stature," the writer gushed after telling us that Cook, a 12-year veteran on the force, is the only female K-9 officer.

What's most disturbing about this situation is that Cook is also a textbook example of the kind of domestic batterer the department's Domestic Violence Assessment and Intervention Project was created to track and target. The key link among women who've died in domestic-related homicides in Charlotte, police have learned, is that it's often later found that the victim made 911 calls to police on several occasions before she was actually killed by her abuser -- calls for help like the kind Garber made on January 10 after Cook attacked her.

The domestic violence program, which is being used in a trial phase in Charlotte's Baker 1 district, is designed to track complaints of lesser, repeat incidents that police know can foretell more deadly domestic violence to come. They then attempt to stem the violence by reaching out to potential victims, recommending protective orders or counseling, and targeting potential abusers for prosecution for other crimes.

So far, Cook is the only one of these suspected batterers to be profiled in the city's newsletter and held up as an example to her fellow coworkers by the police department and the city. The rest, I assume, are in jail, in court or under surveillance.

No one should be angrier about this than police officer Robert P. Wood, who was fired in July after his estranged wife told his superiors she caught him peeking in the window of her apartment. Wood claims he looked into her window because he wanted to see if she had taken some of his valuables which were missing from his home after she moved out while he was at work. According to a July 3 memo from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Darrel Stephens, Wood was fired for violating North Carolina General Statute 14-202, which makes it illegal to secretly peep into a room occupied by a female. According to police internal investigation reports obtained by Creative Loafing, Noel Elizabeth Wood told interviewing officers that Wood had "never been physically violent to her in the past, and that she did not think he would ever get physically violent." Noel Wood declined to file charges against her husband in the incident. He was fired anyway.

Given the facts at hand, it appears that the department's unwritten policy on domestic violence by its officers is: 1) It's OK if you are female, 2) It's OK if you are a high-ranking officer or 3) It's OK to beat your girlfriend up if you don't spy on her first and you return your patrol car in mint condition afterward.

What officers like Cook need is help, not handholding from the courts and public accolades from their superiors. If there's no place for Robert Wood on the force, than there should be no place for Gina Cook either.

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