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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's domestic-violence double standard 

It appears that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Gina Cook is roughing up her girlfriends and roommates again.

Cook is now being investigated for domestic violence for the second time in less than a decade. Given the violence level involved in the first incident, it is unfathomable that she has remained on the police force long enough to be investigated a second time.

According to the police report from the first incident in 2003, Cook was enraged that her ex-girlfriend had started a relationship with another woman.

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, who was also a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, was asleep with a third woman, whom Cook attacked. When the ex-girlfriend tried to stop the attack by putting herself between Cook and the other woman, Cook punched her 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 police 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. At the time, the police department said it had disciplined her, but had no plans to fire her.

The most recent 911 domestic violence call on Cook went to Gaston County authorities in July. "We need police," Cook's roommate told the operator after complaining that there had been some shoving, WCNC reported. (Cook faced an internal investigation and has now been placed on paid administrative leave.)

What was so disturbing about this situation, as I wrote at the time in Creative Loafing, is that Cook was 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 die in domestic-related homicides in Charlotte, police have learned, is that it's often later found that the victim made 911 calls to police before she was actually killed by her abuser — calls for help like the kind Cook's associates keep making.

Cook not only wasn't fired, but incredibly, seven months later, she was honored in a glowing full-page personal profile in the Charlotte City Employees' 2003 June newsletter, which is distributed to thousands of city employees. The piece chronicled Cook's rise to her position as the only female member of the highly competitive K-9 unit in near-heroic terms.

This really steamed some of the department's male officers, who insisted that a male officer would be — and should be — fired for doing what Cook did.

There is evidence that they are right.

A male officer, Robert Wood, was fired the same month the glowing profile on Cook ran. Wood was dismissed for violating North Carolina General Statute 14-202, which makes it illegal to secretly peep into a room occupied by a female after his ex-wife caught him peeping through the window of her apartment. He had no history of violence toward her. 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.

What is ironic is that the city has so far paid out nearly $600,000 in settlement money to the victims of Officer Marcus Jackson, who sexually assaulted them while on duty. The main claim of their lawyers? That the department was responsible for the assaults because it failed to catch Jackson's domestic violence history in a 2005 background check, including a restraining order taken out against him after he hit and slapped his girlfriend.

Cook's domestic violence history couldn't have been "missed" by the department, because a series of articles about it appeared in Creative Loafing in 2003. So is there a double standard here? Why should the city expect the public to take domestic violence seriously when the police department doesn't?

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