COVINGTON, Ga. — On Monday morning, less than two years after being shot in the head while on duty, Officer Matt Cooper returned to work with the Covington Police Department.
Cooper’s life was forever altered on the afternoon of Sept. 3, 2018, when he responded to a call at the Walmart on Industrial Boulevard. While in pursuit of a shoplifting suspect, he suffered a gunshot wound to the head. The bullet clogged his carotid artery, clotting his blood and ultimately preserving his life while also causing a brain injury.
Following a multitude of operations and months of intense therapy, Officer Cooper has officially been cleared to return to duty for the CPD.
On Thursday afternoon, Matt Cooper sat on a black couch beside his wife, Kristen, for a press conference via Zoom. Seated beneath a black and blue flag emblazoned with 148 — Officer Cooper’s badge number — in white letters, the Coopers expressed to reporters how excited they are for Matt to be back at work.
“I’ve been doing therapy for like a year and a half now, so to mix it up a little bit and be able to say I’m going back to work — even though it’s not full duty yet, but just being in the atmosphere — it felt really good,” Matt said. “It was like going back to school again.”
Officer Cooper is currently assigned to the CPD’s Support Services department and will be helping out on the administrative side. While he’s made immense physical progress, he admitted that he still frequently finds himself struggling with mental fatigue.
“Every day that passes is taxing on my mind,” Matt said. “I don’t know the right way to put it, but just trying to stay awake with a traumatic brain injury is my biggest challenge yet.”
Kristen opened up about the “whirlwind of emotions” she and her family have faced over the past 20 months, likening their journey to riding a roller coaster.
“Some moments we have are really good, and we’re like, ‘Yes! We’ve got this.’ And then others, it’s like, ‘OK, what just happened?’” she said. “I think we’ve kind of learned to acclimate to each situation.”
After being shot on Labor Day in 2018, Officer Cooper — a six-year veteran of the CPD at that time — was life-flighted to WellStar Atlanta Medical Center and spent over a week at Grady Memorial Hospital before transferring to Shepherd Center in Atlanta for rehabilitation. On Dec. 19, 2018, he graduated from the Shepherd Center’s impatient brain injury rehabilitation program and returned home for the holidays.
In the months that followed, as he continued his recovery and rehabilitation process through occupational, physical and vision therapy, Officer Cooper notes that he found personal strength through a renewed relationship with God.
“There were many days I was broken during my recovery,” he said. “I just didn’t think I could do much more, mentally and physically. So I broke down and starting praying again and renewed my faith in God.”
He also thanked the CPD and local community for their willingness to jump in and support him in numerous ways throughout his journey.
“The community really stuck behind me in this whole process,” Matt said. “I was not able to take care of my family, but guys came by, cut our grass and helped us with stuff. Just being there as another support really helped me out, and I’m proud of that.
Asked if this week had been a target date for Matt to make his return, he and Kristen both said they didn’t have a set date in mind. However, Matt was eager to get back to work as soon as he knew he could.
Kristen was initially apprehensive about Matt returning to the line of duty, but was overwhelmed with joy when she saw how happy her husband was to report to the CPD on Monday.
“I definitely had some fears about him returning to work because for the past 20 months, my role has been to really be a protector of him. Whether it be his medical treatment, or his emotional health,” she said. “I’ve had to learn to kind of change my mindset also and know that he is going to make mistakes, and it’s OK. We can pick ourselves back up from them.”
Friday was Matt Cooper Day in Georgia, a proclamation from Gov. Kemp’s office that was first announced last May.