Prosecutor’s Office Forgets To Pursue Charges For 45 Years On Suspect Who Shot Officer Niki Cooper
Columbus, OH – The family of the late Columbus Police Officer Niki Cooper is seeking justice from his shooter – 45 years later.
According to The Toledo Blade, his daughter Lori Cooper began searching for answers on her father’s birthday, three years after he died at age 71. She and her sister Amy had known when they were growing up that their father Niki Cooper had been shot, and that it had permanently disabled him. The family had also accepted Niki’s story that other jurisdictions had priority in trying the suspect, Charles Hays, and that was the reason he was never prosecuted in Niki’s case. He was so tight-lipped about the case that some co-workers didn’t know the details of the shooting. It also came between him and his wife, Becky, and they later divorced.
In her search, Lori Cooper learned that Charles Hays was alive, at age 82, and lived an hour away in Dayton. She also learned the truth – that her father’s case had literally been forgotten by the state of Ohio. Lori brought the case to the attention of the Franklin County Prosecutor, Ron O’Brien, and said that she “…was not stopping until some kind of justice gets done.”
On March 15, 1972, Columbus Police Officer Niki Cooper, age 29, was part of an elite unit known as “D” Platoon, similar to today’s SWAT units, that was designed for an immediate response to serious crimes. He and his partner, CPD Officer Robert Stout, responded to the Walnut Bluff subdivision to investigate a rash of burglaries.
The platoon had stopped at a residence in the 5100 block of Carbondale Drive, where people thought their home might have been broken into. Officer Niki Cooper was talking with the residents in the front yard and Officer Stout walked around back. He surprised two men standing by the back sliding glass door. Officer Stout was able to get one suspect, William Viars, to the ground, and handcuffed him. The second suspect, Charles Hays, fled. Officer Cooper ran after Hays and cornered him by a fence. Hays pulled out a gun and shot Officer Cooper, striking him in the arm.
Officer Niki Cooper fired three shots at Charles Hays, and then both men fell to the ground struggling over Officer Cooper’s service weapon. Officer Cooper managed to use his good arm and push away his firearm, and ran toward Officer Stout, yelling that he had been shot.
Charles Hays was shot four times and was hospitalized for some time. There was a part of Officer Niki Cooper that was never the same. Lori Cooper said “People underestimate the degree to which these injuries actually affect and impair people on a permanent basis.” He remained in the hospital for about a month, underwent several surgeries, and was out of work for months. Officer Cooper could never bend or straighten his left arm again.
Some CPD supervisors tried to get Officer Niki Cooper to retire. With the assistance of CPD Deputy Chief Francis “Bo” Smith, he was able to return to Patrol where he served for eight years. He then worked desk jobs for seven years until he could retire with 25 years of service. Lori Cooper said that “Today they would never allow a man with my dad’s injuries to be back out on the street.”
In 1972, a Franklin County grand jury indicted Charles Hays, Viars, and a third suspect, Charles Cox, who was the getaway driver. The charges were Shooting with Intent to Kill an Officer and multiple Burglaries. Viars and Cox were later convicted of the burglary charges and sentenced to five to 30 years in Ohio prisons. Viars has since died but Cox is reported to still be living.
After his indictment, Charles Hays was released on $10,000 bond and arrested for unrelated charges in Lexington, Kentucky and Connecticut. He served time in a Hartford, Connecticut prison. And the Franklin County charges against Hays were forgotten. Lori Cooper said that the paperwork somehow fell through the cracks.
Meanwhile, O’Brien’s office is making excuses: that an old filing system was to blame. And that Charles Hays certainly knew he was due in court despite the fact that he was continuing to move around the country at will and committing additional crimes. A family member of Hays said that he has suffered enough, that he was left a paraplegic after the shooting and is in poor health.
It’s even more apparent that the state of Ohio neglected Officer Niki Cooper’s case when facts show that Hays has lived at the same location for the past ten years and has also renewed his Ohio driver’s license – twice. Lori Cooper spent months doing research and digging up old files. She is determined to find justice for her father. She said “he’s escaped justice” and “has not had to answer for attempting to murder a police officer. It’s about time that justice be served.”
Prosecutor O’Brien said that the 1972 warrant is still valid and said that he is actively pursuing the case “…on behalf of Lori and the family.” Charles Hays has been served with the warrant and placed under bond. The case is now scheduled for another hearing, and has begun its journey through the court. Lori Cooper has petitioned state and federal lawmakers ‘to change laws to require the permanent retention of records when police officers are assaulted, to remove the statute of limitations for the attempted murder of a police officer, and to make targeted assaults on first responders a hate crime.’
I send thoughts and prayers to the family of Officer Niki Cooper. And I demand justice for his case, justice that should have occurred many years ago.
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