Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Chris Cook charged with felony assault
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook has been suspended indefinitely by the Vikings without pay, following a felony charge for allegedly strangling his girlfriend during an incident that left her bloodied.
The team issued a statement late Tuesday announcing the suspension and describing the allegations as "very disturbing and disappointing" but declined to comment further "until the appropriate time."
Cook was charged earlier Tuesday with felony domestic assault by strangulation, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. State guidelines call for a sentence of a year and a day.
Cook was released on $40,000 bail from jail, where he'd been since his arrest early Saturday at his home in suburban Eden Prairie near team headquarters.
The 24-year-old Cook, as a condition of his bail, is barred from contact with the alleged victim and cannot leave Minnesota, which would prevent him from traveling with the Vikings to any road games.
But Cook doesn't even appear to be in position to rejoin his teammates at practice anytime soon. He has a court appearance set for Wednesday afternoon.
In addition to the legal matter and the team's decision, Cook could eventually face punishment from the NFL, too. Spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is reviewing the matter. Such charges often bring suspensions, per the NFL's personal conduct policy.
According to the complaint, Cook became upset early Saturday when he found out his girlfriend of 10 months had spoken to an ex-boyfriend. The woman told police Cook threw her on the bed, got on top of her, and grabbed her neck with an open hand, constricting her ability to breathe.
The complaint said the woman freed herself by grabbing Cook's hair, which he wears in shoulder-length dreadlocks. Cook then struck her in the ear, sending her crashing into a wall. As the woman ran to the living room, he grabbed her neck again and squeezed it.
Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman said at a news conference that Cook answered the door to the house and officers found the woman with a bloody nose and upper lip. She had marks on her neck and hemorrhaging in her eye, Freeman said, consistent with victims of strangulation.
Cook's attorney, David Valentini, told reporters his client was "of course" remorseful and "not happy" about the situation.
"He's upset that he was sitting there. He's upset he missed the game. And he's upset for the whole incident," Valentini said.
Cook apologized Tuesday on his Twitter account to the fans, Vikings ownership and the coaching staff, his teammates and friends and family and said, "There's always two sides to a story!!"
Earlier this year, Cook was found not guilty of brandishing a firearm after allegedly pulling a gun on a neighbor in Virginia. Freeman noted that case but said, "As far as we're concerned, there's no record."
Freeman also said he's unaware of any prior abuse in the relationship. But a recent amendment to state law makes the case against Cook more serious. The penalty for domestic abuse strangulation was enhanced to a felony in 2005.
"Before the law was changed, you could strangle someone nearly to death and the most serious thing you could be charged with was a misdemeanor punishable by at most 90 days in jail," said Minneapolis attorney Susan Gaertner, who helped spearhead the legislation while serving as Ramsey County attorney. "There was a great deal of research showing that an incident of strangulation is a huge red flag that a pattern of violence is escalating."
Freeman said his office has prosecuted more than 20 of these cases this year.
"It's a precursor in tragically too many cases to more serious events," Freeman said.
He said the alleged victim has been cooperating with the investigation.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier spoke with Cook during the offseason to reiterate the importance of staying out of trouble off the field, and the second-year player emerged as the team's best in pass coverage. At 6-foot-2, he has the size to match up with taller receivers and the speed to keep up with smaller ones.
But while the Vikings fell to 1-6 in losing to Green Bay on Sunday, Cook was in the county jail a few blocks away. His absence forced cornerbacks Asher Allen and Marcus Sherels into more significant playing time.