The Island County prosecutor decided not to charge a man who inflicted potentially fatal injuries on 23-year-old Oak Harbor resident Chris Cooper during a Nov. 17 confrontation.
Cooper’s family and friends said they are outraged by the decision, but hold out hope that a case can be made and that Cooper will pull through.
Cooper, however, remains in a coma at Harborview Medical Center. His father, Terry Cooper, said the young man may not survive.
“The doctor said there’s no sign of recovery,” he said Tuesday morning, adding that he should have results from another round of tests this week.
Cooper was found lying unconscious in the parking lot on Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor — in the vicinity of the Pony Express business and Whidbey Furniture — at about 2:21 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17. He was airlifted to Harborview because of a traumatic head injury.
The Oak Harbor police arrested 29-year-old Jason Ellis, of Oak Harbor, on suspicion of first-degree assault Saturday, Nov. 24. The prosecutor’s office released him Monday morning.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said there was substantial evidence that Ellis acted in self defense; under law, prosecutors would have to prove a lack of self defense beyond a reasonable doubt to convict him.
Banks explained that Cooper was carrying an iPhone and recorded the confrontation.
The video, Banks said, shows Cooper narrating the encounter as he came up to Ellis from behind and confronted him; Ellis was walking away and speaking on a cell phone.
According to the prosecutor, Ellis can be heard saying, “Hey, we’re cool bro. I don’t have any beef with you.”
Cooper allegedly wasn’t dissuaded and a melee ensued. Ellis hit him once or twice and then left, according to Banks. State law doesn’t require Ellis to render aid, the prosecutor said.
A newspaper delivery person found Cooper lying in the parking lot soon afterward and called 911.
Cooper and Ellis were both at the Element nightclub downtown prior to the confrontation.
Banks said he didn’t know what they had been arguing about.
Ellis later heard that someone had been found unconscious and injured downtown; he called the police to inquire whether the injured person was the man he hit. Banks said the police didn’t have a suspect until Ellis essentially turned himself in.
Banks said he was aware Ellis had martial arts training and took that into account in evaluating the evidence.
Ellis won an amateur, 135-pound bantamweight title bout in mixed martial arts in 2011, according to a March 15, 2011 News-Times story.
“It’s just a tragic, tragic case,” Banks said. “We’re awaiting the full investigation from the police. We haven’t completely ruled out a prosecution.”
Oak Harbor Police Chief Ed Green said he was surprised by the prosecutor’s decision not to charge Ellis, but detectives will continue to gather evidence in hopes of persuading Banks to prosecute.
“We are going forward because we feel we have a crime,” he said.
Ellis could not be reached for comment.
Oak Harbor resident Ryan Thompson, Cooper’s lifelong friend and roommate, said Cooper went to the Element that night with a group of friends, but ended up alone.
He said Cooper and Ellis didn’t know each other, but have many mutual friends. He doesn’t know what prompted the fight.
“It was a verbal confrontation that turned worse than it should have,” he said.
Terry Cooper said he is very troubled over the lack of prosecution, especially when the prosecutor hasn’t seen the medical files.
He said the neurologist stressed the seriousness of the head trauma.
“He said this is not the kind of injury you see from a ground-level fall. It’s what you would see in a really bad traffic accident,” he said.
Cooper said it’s significant that Ellis is a mixed martial arts fighter and should be held accountable for the sheer brutality of the attack.
“He used deadly force on my son,” he said.
Meanwhile, family and friends wait to see what doctors say. The community is rallying to help the family with fundraisers.
The Football Bat sports bar held an event Saturday. Applebee’s is having a “Dining to Donate” fundraiser on Friday, Nov. 30. Off the Hook, a Pioneer Way club, is hosting a fundraiser featuring “The Kevin Collins Comedy Hypnosis Show” on Saturday, Dec. 8; doors open at 6 p.m.
In addition, the “Christopher Cooper Donation Fund” has been established at Wells Fargo Bank.