Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook was charged Tuesday with trying to strangle his girlfriend, leaving her with a bloody nose and lip in an alleged attack that caused him to be suspended by the team without pay while the Vikings gather more information.
Cook was charged with felony domestic assault by strangulation, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The 24-year-old Cook was arrested early Saturday and released from custody Tuesday on $40,000 bail.
He is barred from contact with the alleged victim and cannot leave Minnesota, which would prevent him from traveling with the Vikings to Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Cook has a court appearance set for Wednesday afternoon.
According to the complaint, Cook became upset early Saturday when he found out his girlfriend of 10 months had spoken to an ex-boyfriend.
The woman told police Cook threw her on the bed at his home near the team’s suburban headquarters in Eden Prairie, got on top of her, and grabbed her neck with an open hand, constricting her ability to breathe.
The complaint said the woman freed herself by grabbing Cook’s hair, which he wears in shoulder-length dreadlocks. Cook then struck her in the ear, sending her crashing into a wall. As the woman ran to the living room, he grabbed her neck again and squeezed it.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at a news conference that Cook answered the door to the house and officers found the woman with a bloody nose and upper lip. She had marks on her neck and hemorrhaging in her eye, Freeman said, consistent with victims of strangulation. State guidelines call for a sentence of a year and a day, he said.
Cook’s attorney, David Valentini, told reporters his client was “of course” remorseful and “not happy” about the situation.
“He’s upset that he was sitting there. He’s upset he missed the game. And he’s upset for the whole incident,” Valentini said.
Cook apologized Tuesday on his Twitter account to the fans, Vikings ownership and the coaching staff, his teammates and friends and family and said, “There’s always two sides to a story!!”
The Vikings called the allegations “very disturbing and disappointing” while announcing his suspension.
Earlier this year, Cook was found not guilty of brandishing a firearm after allegedly pulling a gun on a neighbor in Virginia. Freeman noted that case but said, “As far as we’re concerned, there’s no record.”
Freeman also said he’s unaware of any prior abuse in the relationship. But a recent amendment to state law makes the case against Cook more serious. The penalty for domestic abuse strangulation was enhanced to a felony in 2005.
“Before the law was changed, you could strangle someone nearly to death and the most serious thing you could be charged with was a misdemeanor punishable by at most 90 days in jail,” said Minneapolis attorney Susan Gaertner, who helped spearhead the legislation while serving as Ramsey County attorney. “There was a great deal of research showing that an incident of strangulation is a huge red flag that a pattern of violence is escalating.”
Freeman said his office has prosecuted more than 20 of these cases this year.
“It’s a precursor in tragically too many cases to more serious events,” Freeman said.
He said the alleged victim has been cooperating with the investigation.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier spoke with Cook during the offseason to reiterate the importance of staying out of trouble off the field, and the second-year player emerged as the team’s best in pass coverage. At 6-foot-2, he has the size to match up with taller receivers and the speed to keep up with smaller ones.
But while the Vikings fell to 1-6 in losing to Green Bay Sunday, Cook was in the county jail a few blocks away. His absence forced cornerbacks Asher Allen and Marcus Sherels into more significant playing time.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is reviewing the matter. Such charges often bring suspensions, per the NFL’s personal conduct policy.