A Compton man was accused of ambushing two officers in Los Angeles in a fake social media alert last week, forcing him to speak out publicly to clear his name.
33-year-old youth football coach Darnell Hicks was identified via Twitter as the gunman who opened fire on two L.A. sheriff’s deputies as they sat in their cruiser outside of a transit station in Compton. The hoax alert began to circulate less than a day after the shooting.
The father of two, who lives with his 93-year-old grandmother, began to receive text messages of the seemingly official “be on the lookout” alert, which included his driver’s license photograph, address, full name, and even associated him with a gang. The alert claimed that he was “wanted for attempted murder” in connection with the Saturday evening shooting. “The suspect has vowed to shoot more law enforcement officers,” the fake alert added. Hicks says that the death threats soon began to follow.
“I feared for my family’s safety. I got so worried; I called in to the sheriff’s station,” he said.
Hicks had spent his Saturday dirt-biking in Compton. However, he still fell under a veil of suspicion as blogs began to pick up the story and share it to thousands of people. Hicks maintains that he had no ties to the shooting whatsoever, nor does he know who started the detrimental rumor.
“It is a sign of the times. We have drifted away far from rational thought,” Brian Dunn, Hicks’ attorney said.
On Sunday, the Sheriff’s Department spoke out on Twitter in an attempt to clear up the rumors, saying, “There are no named or wanted suspects at this time.” Sheriff Alex Villaneuva confirmed that the department never issued the alert and that the one quickly being spread across social media was “fake news.”
Currently, there is a social media post that is being circulated which identifies a male out of the Los Angeles area as the suspect responsible for the ambush of our 2 deputies yesterday. This is ERRONEOUS information and there are no named or wanted suspects at this time.
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) September 14, 2020
“There was some bad information floating around yesterday about a suspect,” he said during a Monday briefing. “All that information is false.”
Community activist Jasmyne Cannick, who became involved with the case after friends of Hicks, reached out to her for help, said that the department’s initial generic description of the suspect created the opportunity for racial profiling to take place. The initial report only described the suspect as a dark-skinned Black male between the ages of 28 and 30.
“What if he would have been killed? What if anybody would have thought he was the wanted suspect?” she said. “His kids, his 93-year-old grandmother, could have got hurt.”
The 31-year-old female deputy and 24-year-old male deputy remain in critical condition after a man boldly approached their vehicle and fired a gun into the passenger window multiple times before fleeing on foot. The deputies were hit in the face, head, and arms.
Though the original poster has removed the fake wanted poster from Twitter, Hicks says, “nobody has taken responsibility for it.”