Syracuse, NY — Ozell Cooper says he isn’t the romantic type, so he went for the craziest wedding proposal he could think of.
First, he needed to find a Syracuse police officer. Then he needed to convince the officer to frisk him outside his South Side home. He needed to pretend to be a thief.
Only then would the officer pull the ring from Cooper’s back pocket. He’d fall to the ground in front of his astonished girlfriend and propose.
As Cooper said, not the most romantic plan.
But perhaps one of Syracuse’s craziest marriage proposals went off without a hitch on Valentine’s Day.
And after wiping away the tears, the bride-to-be Tersia Vries said yes.
“It made me the happiest man in the world,” Cooper said. “We laughed the whole night. It was just a beautiful thing. Just beautiful. To the officer, I thank him so much. To the Syracuse Police Department, thank you so much. We need more interactions like this. It was a beautiful thing to see it come together just the way I thought it would.”
Vries said Cooper’s arrest-turned-proposal was the “biggest relief of my life.”
“Everyone knows there’s that stigma out there about police officers and Black men,” she said. “The police officer played it so well, so I want to thank him for being a part of that. I’m thankful for the positivity of a police officer being involved… there is a lot of good in the police department, a lot of good hearts.”
Officer Joseph Senf said this was an acting job he knew he couldn’t pass up.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “It was a good thing for the city and the community.”
Syracuse police posted a video of the made-for-Facebook proposal Monday afternoon. Within hours, it had hundreds of shares and likes, along with dozens of comments praising the couple and the police for the most unusual of encounters.
“It was hard to say no to Ozell Cooper in his unique marriage proposal idea to Tersia Vries,” the police department wrote on Facebook. “Officer (Joseph) Senf so graciously played along! Best of luck to both of you!”
Cooper and Vries, both 37, were still giggling and smiling about the proposal Monday outside their new home on Elk Street where members of the Cooper family have lived for years.
“It was scary,” Vries recalled, laughing. “I didn’t know what to expect, I was expecting the worst… I thought he had really done something.”
Senf played his role admirably. He ordered Vries to stand back, as she looked on, hands on her hips. As the officer frisked Cooper along his squad car, he demanded to know if Cooper had stolen the ring.
There were audible gasps from onlookers as the officer suggested Cooper was a thief. But Vries said that’s when she should have known something was up.
“Him stealing? I knew there’s gotta be something up. He’s not like that,” Vries said. “There’s gotta be something behind here.”
Cooper works in a state group home. He’s never been in trouble with the law.
In retrospect, Vries said it’s not surprising her new fiancé would pull such an elaborate rouse.
“I should have known he would have done something crazy like that,” she said. “He’s a jokester, so something like that would come from him.”
Vries, who works for the Syracuse City School District, met Cooper during a camping trip at Watkins Glen last summer. They had mutual friends, but had never met before then.
Cooper said he began planning the proposal on Saturday night. He asked his dad, who loved the idea. So did his sister. He then told some of the neighbors.
“She had no idea about it, but I told everyone else, so they wouldn’t freak out,” he said.
On Valentine’s Day, he went off looking for a cop.
“Funny thing is, you can’t find one when you’re looking for one,” Cooper said, laughing.
But he eventually found four officers making an arrest by Valley Plaza, on South Salina Street, more than a mile away. When he told them about his plan, they said: “Are you serious?” Cooper recalled.
Cooper pulled out the ring. “Yes, I’m very serious,” he replied.
That’s when his cousin called. She had found Officer Senf writing up a report in a parking lot on West Newell Avenue.
When Senf heard about the plan, he sprung into action.
“Naturally, I couldn’t say no to this. This is something not everybody gets the opportunity to do,” he said.
The Baldwinsville native has been a Patrol Officer for 4 1/2 years after four years in the U.S. Marines.
“I just kind of flipped the script for action,” he said. “I treated it like any other call.”
On his way, Senf radioed dispatch to let them know he was headed to an “assist to citizen.” That means there will forever been an incident number associated with the proposal stunt.
The act was simple enough: Senf would stop Cooper on suspicion of robbing a nearby Family Dollar. He’d frisk him and pull out the ring.
But no one told Senf where the ring actually was. So the officer ended up frisking Cooper in search of the jewelry.
“Where is it?” Senf whispered at one point. “Is it in your back pocket?”
“Yes,” Cooper whispered back, his hands still on the hood of the officer’s car.
Senf recalled Cooper’s family and neighbors outside, smiling and taking pictures and video of the proposal.
Only Vries was not amused. She confronted the officer, demanding to know what was going on. He told her to stand back. When Cooper fell to a knee, she doubled over in shock.
Both Cooper and Senf credited each other for putting on a good show.
“He was playing it up pretty good,” the officer recalled of Cooper.
“He was a great actor,” Cooper said of the officer.
As the happy couple hugged, Senf stood back, knowing that he’d done something truly unique.
With light snow falling, Vries said the magic words.
“I said yes!” she screamed.
Cooper and the officer hugged.
“Thank you officer!” an onlooker yelled.
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