COVINGTON - The Covington Police Department held a very special awards ceremony at Porter Memorial Auditorium Wednesday night, honoring the first responders who played a part in saving the life of Officer Matt Cooper, who was wounded in a line-of-duty shooting on Labor Day 2018. Cooper and his wife Kristen were also honored.

On 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 was initially taken to Grady Memorial Hospital and then transferred to the Shepherd Center for rehabilitation. Since the shooting, the community has rallied to support him and his family through prayer, fundraisers and other events.

In a press conference before the ceremony, Cooper and Kristen answered questions about his recovery.

Cooper, who is continuing to recover at home after being released from the Shepherd Center earlier this year, said he goes to physical therapy twice a week and has a two-hour workout program at home every day. He has also started once-a-week vision therapy and said he is getting stronger every day and doing great.

Kristen added that she is happy to have her husband back home with her and their two daughters.

“I feel really optimistic now because he is making so much progress,” she said. “Surgeries are out of the way; we get to have more Matt now.”

Cooper thanked the first responders and the community for their support.

“I am forever indebted to you guys,” he said to the first responders, “and on my name and honor I will try to make you guys proud. I will not let you down.

“Thank you so much for everything,” Cooper said to the community. “The way you took care of me and my family when I couldn’t leaves me speechless. There were some nights in the hospital when we would lay in bed and just cry, trying to figure out why God was being so nice to us. It makes a good feeling. That’s why we do it — for what they’re doing for us. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to thank them enough.”

When asked why he thought he survived, 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.”

Cooper was honored by Gov. Brian Kemp at the State of the State address in January, receiving a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly.

Wednesday night District 17 State Sen. Brian Strickland presented Cooper with a proclamation from the Governor’s Office proclaiming May 22, 2019 as Matt Cooper Day in Georgia. Strickland said God used Cooper to bring people together.

“I heard you back there talking about God’s not done with you yet … and what God’s using you for,” Strickland said, referring to Cooper's comments in the press conference. “There’s going to be a lot of things God’s using you for. I personally saw you bring a state together, and you brought this community together. That moment at the General Assembly symbolizes what really happened here in Newton County. At a time when we need to come together as a community, you brought us together through all this. I want to thank you for that.”

District 112 State Rep. Dave Belton also thanked Cooper for his service, both in the military and law enforcement, and presented him with a framed copy of the proclamation.

First responders from the Covington Police Department, Newton County Sheriff’s Office, Covington Fire Department, Covington-Newton County EMS, Covington-Newton County 911, and Air Methods flight and medical crew were honored with a variety of awards, including departmental commendations, the Meritorious Service Award, and the Covington Police Star Award.

The Star Award is the highest honor given by the Police Department, and is for acts of heroism and bravery with a significant possibility of serious injury or loss of life. It was presented to the first officers on the scene after the shooting: Covington Police Sgt. Allan Seebaran, Newton County Sheriff’s Cpl. Jack Redlinger, and Covington Police Lt. Chris Smith.

Following the award presentations, Police Chief Stacey Cotton named Kristen Cooper as an honorary police officer with the Covington Police Department, presenting her with a badge and a bouquet of roses.

Cotton also presented Cooper with the Covington Police Medal of Valor and the Police Star. Cotton said a higher power was watching over Covington the day Cooper was shot.

“I thank the Lord that on Sept. 3, 2018, He allowed us all to have Matt Cooper to remain here with us,” Cotton said, “to stay with us and show us what true determination looks like, what love for family looks like — and he continues to fight hard to get better for his wife and children — what love for his fellow officers and law enforcement family look like, and lastly, what love for his community looks like.”

Award Recipients:

Police Star

• CPD Sgt. Allan Seebaran

• NCSO Cpl. Jack Redlinger

• CPD Lt. Chris Smith

• Officer Matt Cooper

Medal of Valor

• Officer Matt Cooper

Meritorious Service

• NCSO Capt. Sammy Banks

• NCSO Cpl. Colin Cunningham

• CFD Capt. Christopher Middlebrooks

• CFD Eng. Joseph McGrue

• CFD Eng. Kevin Smith

• EMS Lt. Thomas Satterly

• EMS EMT Amy Germany

• EMS Lt. Justin Crowder

• EMS EMT Brent Demark

• 911 Tiffany Cook

• 911 Ryan Zontak

• 911 Crystal Stevens

• 911 Janet Moore

• 911 Christian Favors

• 911 Caroline Almond

Departmental Commendation

• CPD Sgt. Hayward DeRouen Sr.

• CPD Sherica Tate

• CPD Officer Michael Walden

• CPD Officer Stacy Cosby

• CPD Officer Lloyd Capps

• CPD Officer Matthew Holbrook

• Air Methods Pilot Richard Finke

• Air Methods Nurse Dawn Brown

• Air Methods Nurse Tessa Robinson

Senior Reporter

Born and raised in Decatur, Ga. Graduated from Shorter College in Rome, Ga. in 1979 with B.A. in Communications. Worked in community newspapers for 26 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.