A Black California youth leader says he woke last week at 4 a.m. to find deputies in his bedroom, guns drawn, who then escorted him out of his home half-naked — only to let him go after they realized he was not a burglary suspect they were looking for.
Derrick Cooper, 54, said that when he was wrongfully detained on April 18, he felt “less than human” and “humiliated.”
“I was not valued as a human being,” he said Tuesday. “To just come in and blatantly take me out of my safe place and put me in a place that I’m helpless and afraid for my life —it’s one of the worst things imaginable.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said deputies from the Compton Station were dispatched to an attempted burglary call near the L.A. City Wildcats facility, a youth sports academy Cooper has run for 27 years. Cooper’s apartment is in the same building, he said.
Cooper was detained in the facility but was later determined not to be a suspect and was released, the sheriff’s department said in a statement.
'Please do not shoot me'
Cooper said he thought he was dreaming at first when he heard three deputies shouting at him in his bedroom, shining lights on him in the early morning.
When he realized what was happening, he said, “I just went into survival mode.”
“I’m like, 'They’re either here to kill me or I’ve done something that I don’t know about,'” he said. “I said, 'I’m unarmed, I live alone, please do not shoot me.'”
The deputies ordered him to stand up and walk toward them, and he told them that he would comply but that he was naked from the waist down. He asked to put on underwear or pants but was told he could not.
“As much as I wanted to reach for something to cover up, I just knew if I did that, it was not going to be good for me. So as embarrassed as I was, I chose being embarrassed to live another day,” he said.
He was then placed in handcuffs. Cooper said he repeatedly asked, “What am I being arrested for?” but was never told why.
The deputies escorted him out of his home, into the business part of his building and out the door, he said.
“I thought [a deputy] was going to say, 'Sit down, cover up, let me tell you why we’re here.' That didn’t happen,” Cooper said. “This is not right. He walked me out of my building onto Compton Boulevard with no shoes, no socks on” and the lower half of his body exposed.
He was put in a patrol car for about 20 minutes and said he heard the dispatch radio say: “You guys are at the wrong building. Let him go.”
The sheriff’s department would not comment on whether the deputies had arrived at the wrong address. It said, "Compton Station is thoroughly investigating the incident."
Soon after, the officers apologized and Cooper ran back into his building, he said.
“I’m exposed. I’m already embarrassed. I went in, and I just sat there for the longest time thinking, 'I can’t believe this is happening,'” he said.
Cooper reviewed security camera video from outside and inside his building and found that the deputies had made entry through the mail slot, reaching up to unbolt two locks to open the door.
Cooper’s lawyer, Jaaye Person-Lynn, said he and Cooper reviewed the security video from one hour before the deputies arrived and didn’t see anyone prowling around in the area, much less a burglary suspect.
Demands for accountability
Person-Lynn said they’re still unsure why deputies made contact with Cooper.
“We haven’t been given any information, like any 911 calls or any other information related to that call. So as of right now, we are still quite unsure what actually led to the officers’ showing up,” he said.
The ordeal has shaken Cooper.
“It’s just hard to sleep at night. I’m taking it day by day. Some days are good. Some days are not,” he said.
He has also been unable to be active in his youth academy, where he coaches basketball, soccer, cheer, dance and drumline.
“The biggest disappointment that I’m dealing with right now is that I cannot be involved with the kids in the community that I serve,” he said. “Mentally I can’t give them that service right now. This is so unfair to me. Because all I ever wanted to do in life was do what someone did for me, give me the chance to be a kid, give me a chance to make memories and give me a chance to be a productive citizen.”
Now, Cooper wants accountability.
He wants law enforcement to have proper training to ensure something like this doesn't happen again, and he wants to hear from the sheriff's office.
“It’s been a week that this happened to me, and nobody’s reached out and even showed any type of empathy or sympathy for what has happened to me from their department. That’s just unacceptable,” he said.
A claim is filed; protest planned
Person-Lynn, the attorney, said he filed a claim Monday against the sheriff's department for damages on Cooper's behalf. It claims several violations of Cooper’s civil rights, as well as negligent training, negligent supervision, battery, false imprisonment and false arrest.
In California, a government claim must be filed first before a lawsuit can be filed, he said.
A peaceful protest and march seeking justice have been organized for May 7, when demonstrators will head to Compton City Hall and the Compton Sheriff’s Station to demand justice for Cooper.
“I’m not going to rest until justice is served with this. It’s so much bigger than me,” Cooper said. “I want to speak for those that were actually killed in their homes by law enforcement and weren’t able to speak. If God’s going to use me in that capacity, so be it. I accept it.”