RAVENNA, Ohio – On Aug. 13, Darren Cooper was in Ravenna for the first time.
A Hudson resident who works for Summit County, he was at the Portage County Job and Family Services building parking lot off South Chestnut Street for a 9 a.m. training meeting. Cooper got to the building early, signed in and went to sit in his car at about 8:47 a.m., drinking tea and talking on his cell phone.
When the Ravenna cops pulled into the parking lot, he said he initially didn’t think anything of it. Summit County has police officers at the building he works in, he said, so he didn’t think anything was wrong until the fourth officer rolled in.
That’s also when the police came up to his car, yelling, “Put your hands up!”
A woman had called the Ravenna Police Department from a dentist’s office across the street and said a man was sitting in a black Mustang with a gun.
The Record-Courier, part of the USA TODAY Network, could not verify her identity.
Cooper does have a concealed-carry weapons permit, but he wasn’t carrying a gun at the time. All he had in his hand was his cell phone, which he was using to talk on speaker.
Cooper was the only Black man in the parking lot in a Mustang. He says he doesn’t understand how the caller would have seen a gun in his hand, especially if she was across the street. The caller identified his car as black when it is dark grey, he said. She did not identify him as a Black man, but she did identify his car.
“But if you don’t know the exact color of my vehicle, how do you know I had a gun?” Cooper questioned.
Officers came and investigated the scene, but did not find any weapons. Officers quickly cleared the scene and apologized to Cooper.
Cooper, though, was angry after the incident, and felt angry still after watching the videos of the incident released to him by the Ravenna Police Department.
“I am happy to be able to share this story because my wife almost lost a husband, and my kids almost lost their father, over someone who thought I had a gun, but it was my iPhone, and the person did not have the correct color of my car,” Cooper said. “When someone’s life is on the line, as mine clearly was, attention to detail is of the utmost importance.”
In the 911 call, the woman does not seem certain that what Cooper is holding is a pistol.
“I really believe he was holding a pistol,” she said at one point in the call, and later said, “I’m pretty darn sure it’s a pistol.”
The police officers who responded to the call had at least two guns unholstered, according to police videos of the incident.
Capt. Jake Smallfield, a spokesman for the Ravenna Police Department, said he reviewed all the videos from the incident and thought everyone was professional during the incident. He said police have to check out tips on guns.
“We want people to tell us if they see, or in this case, if they feel that they see somebody with a gun. We will, of course, investigate all those complaints,” Smallfield said.
Cooper said he wanted to pursue charges, but Smallfield initially said he did not plan on filing charges against the woman.
“We would not in any way try to discourage people from calling us with tips such as that,” Smallfield said. “You know, we teach it in school, if you see something, say something. We rely heavily on tips.”
Cooper said Friday that he had spoken to Smallfield again after Smallfield spoke to the Record-Courier and Ravenna Police had sent a detective to speak with the caller.
Generally, he said, when the police department does file charges for making a false report, the person has called between 15 and 20 times in a single night, which disrupts police services, Smallfield said.
Smallfield said Ravenna Police have a new standardized policy for bias in policing and are working with the Ohio Collaborative, a standard for police departments in Ohio to improve community relations, to gain certification. The policy prohibits officers from using biased-based profiling in enforcement efforts.
Eight Portage County departments are certified by the Ohio Collaborative: Aurora, Brimfield, Hiram, Kent, Kent State, Mogadore, NEOMED and Streetsboro. The process does not cost anything for certification, according to China Dodley, public information officer with the Ohio Department of Public Safety, and the agency will work with local police departments who want to be certified.
Smallfield said both Cooper and the officers handled the situation professionally.
“I think a lot of times we get into situations where one or more people could have overreacted, I think everyone acted professionally and civilly,” he said.
Cooper said he wants to talk about the Black lives almost lost at the hands of police so people can come forward and file their own reports. He said he was amazed he didn’t die.
“They didn’t come at me with excessive force, but the person who filed the false police report should be charged,” Cooper said.
He added, “It just wasn’t my time, it just didn’t happen.”