LOS ANGELES (KTLA) – A Southern California man says his life was upended after he was falsely identified on social media as the gunman in an ambush on Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies over the weekend.
With a manhunt underway for the shooter — who has yet to be identified by investigators — social media posts began circulating with Darnell Hick’s driver’s license photo, address and license plate number, naming him as a possible suspect. The posts characterized Hicks as armed and dangerous.
Shortly after the two deputies were shot in their patrol vehicle Saturday outside a Compton Metro station, the Sheriff’s Department described the shooter only as a “dark skinned male.”
Hicks, 33, told KTLA he thought he was being pranked when he started getting texts from people he knew with a “be on the lookout” post with his face on it. But he soon realized it was serious and he needed to get legal help.
“The description was a Black male, so it could happen to anybody,” Hicks said Monday.
A father and youth football coach, Hicks says he feared for his and his family’s safety after being wrongfully accused. He said he was out dirt biking all Saturday, but people “put my face out there real fast.”
Hicks’ attorney, Brian Dunn with the Cochran Firm, says the Compton man “has no connection whatsoever” to the shooting.
“Any person would suffer greatly when falsely accused of a crime, especially a crime as heinous as this,” Dunn said.
The deputies were in their patrol car outside a Metro station when an unidentified assailant shot them each in the head at point-blank range, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Both were in stable condition Monday and expected to survive.
Hicks said the incident resulted in him receiving death threats, and even though authorities have cleared him of involvement, people are still “mad about the situation.”
“I have two daughters,” he said. “I don’t even feel safe taking them out no more.”
After the social media posts gained traction, the sheriff’s department said in a tweet Sunday that they were erroneous and “there are no named or wanted suspects at this time.”
“There was some bad information floating around yesterday about a suspect,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva added in a briefing Monday. “All that information is false.”
But Dunn and Hicks say the damage was done.
According to Dunn, it remains unclear why Hicks was accused in the first place. He said Hicks was “thrown into this pit for nothing other than the color of his skin.”
“There has been a complete blackout in terms of the information, where it has come from,” he said. “Nobody has taken responsibility for it.”
Hicks said the situation has also affected his livelihood.
“I’ve got my own clothing line. I do a lot of business on my own,” he said. “People looking at me differently now.”
Community activist Jasmyne Cannick said it raises concern for anyone who could be profiled as dark-skinned.
“When you have a case of mistaken identity, what if he would have been killed? What if anybody would have thought he was the wanted suspect?” she asked.
Hicks said he wants to “send my prayers to the two deputies” and send a message to other Black men.
“For any other Black man out there, just be aware,” he said. “The description was a Black male.”