COVINGTON — From that fateful day 21 months ago, Covington Police Officer Matt Cooper has fought to not only recover, but to return to the job he loves. Monday, May 18, Cooper did just that, returning to work for the first time.
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said it was an emotionally uplifting day for both Cooper and his fellow officers.
“He had a great first day, and we are grateful he is able to be back,” Cotton said. “His first day was just an orientation to the new building and visiting with old friends and meeting new officers he hasn’t met yet who have joined since he has been recovering.”
On Labor Day, Sept. 3, 2018, while pursuing a shoplifting suspect behind the Walmart store on Industrial Boulevard, Cooper was shot in the head, and the bullet lodged in his carotid artery, clotting his blood and saving his life. The shooting suspect was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.
Cooper, a six-year veteran of the department and a military veteran, was initially taken to Grady Memorial Hospital for several surgeries and then transferred to the Shepherd Center for rehabilitation. The bullet remains lodged in his head, with doctors deeming it too risky to try to remove it.
Since the shooting, the community has rallied to support him and his family through prayer, fundraisers and other events, often with the hashtag #148Strong for Cooper’s badge number.
Cooper has made great strides in his recovery. The shooting happened five days before the 2018 Covington Fuzz Run. A year later, Cooper took part in the 2019 Fuzz Run, running with his wife and children in the 1-mile fun run.
Realizing he will never be able to return to patrol duty, Cooper has focused his attention on other ways to help the department. At an awards ceremony in May 2019, Cooper said God has plans for him.
“I survived two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan; I survived getting shot in the face. I don’t think God is done with me yet,” he said. “I want to stay with the Police Department and go to training so I can train new officers, and be there as an open ear for people who are struggling and need somebody to talk to. I’ve been through some of the worst hell that I can think of, so I can just be there to help somebody.”
Chief Cotton said Tuesday that as Cooper continues to improve, they plan on using him in similar roles.
“Matt will be doing various things as he is only working two-hour days to improve his stamina and determine what skills he has to contribute,” Cotton said. “As his strength improves we will add to his duties. We plan on using him in training and a community policing role.”