LEESBURG, Va, (AP) — A YouTube prankster who was shot by one his targets told jurors Tuesday he had no inkling he had scared or angered the man who fired on him as the prank was recorded.
Tanner Cook, whose “Classified Goons” channel on YouTube has more than 55,000 subscribers, testified nonchalantly about the shooting at start of the trial for 31-year-old Alan Colie, who's charged with aggravated malicious wounding and two firearms counts.
The April 2 shooting at the food court in Dulles Town Center, about 45 minutes west of the nation's capital, set off a panic as shoppers fled what they feared to be a mass shooting.
Jurors also saw video of the shooting, recorded by Cook's associates. The two interacted for less than 30 seconds. Video shows Cook approaching Colie, a DoorDash driver, as he picked up an order. The 6-foot-5 (1.95-meter-tall) Cook looms over Colie while holding a cellphone about 6 inches (15 centimeters) from Colie's face. The phone broadcasts the phrase “Hey dips—-, quit thinking about my twinkle” multiple times through a Google Translate app.
On the video, Colie says “stop” three different times and tries to back away from Cook, who continues to advance. Colie tries to knock the phone away from his face before pulling out a gun and shooting Cook in the lower left chest.
Cook, 21, testified Tuesday that he tries to confuse the targets of his pranks for the amusement of his online audience. He said he doesn't seek to elicit fear or anger, but acknowledged his targets often react that way.
Asked why didn't stop the prank despite Colie's repeated requests, Cook said he “almost did” but not because he sensed fear or anger from Colie. He said Colie simply wasn't exhibiting the type of reaction Cook was looking for.
“There was no reaction,” Cook said.
In opening statements, prosecutors urged jurors to set aside the off-putting nature of Cook's pranks.
“It was stupid. It was silly. And you may even think it was offensive,” prosecutor Pamela Jones said. “But that's all it was — a cellphone in the ear that got Tanner shot.”
Defense attorney Tabatha Blake said her client didn't have the benefit of knowing he was a prank victim when he was confronted with Cook's confusing behavior.
She said the prosecution's account of the incident “diminishes how unsettling they were to Mr. Alan Colie at the time they occurred.”
In the video, before the encounter with Colie, Cook and his friends can be heard workshopping the phrase they want to play on the phone. One of the friends urges that it be “short, weird and awkward.”
Cook's “Classified Goons” channel is replete with repellent stunts, like pretending to vomit on Uber drivers and following unsuspecting customers through department stores. At a preliminary hearing, sheriff's deputies testified that they were well aware of Cook and have received calls about previous stunts. Cook acknowledged during cross-examination Tuesday that mall security had tossed him out the day prior to the shooting as he tried to record pranks, and that he was trying to avoid security the day he targeted Colie.
Jury selection took an entire day Monday, largely because of publicity the case received in the area. At least one juror said during the selection process that she herself had been a victim of one of Cook's videos.
Cook said he continues to make the videos and earns $2,000 or $3,000 a month. His subscriber base increased from 39,000 before the shooting to 55,000 after.