Darnell Hicks' life was thrown into disarray after he was falsely accused of being the gunman behind an ambush on two Los Angeles County deputies, shot last weekend while sitting in their patrol vehicle.
As a manhunt for the shooter got underway Saturday evening, the youth football coach and father of two daughters said he began receiving text messages that featured a fake "be on the lookout" (BOLO) alert. They had his name, address, driver's license photo and license plate number.
The post said Hicks, 33, was armed and dangerous, warning, "The suspect has vowed to shoot more law enforcement officers."
"I didn't think nothing of it [at first]," he told Fox News on Wednesday. "I thought they were just playing games with me, like a prank."
The two deputies were assigned to the sheriff department's Transit Services Bureau and graduated from the academy 14 months ago, officials said. A video of the attack shows them parked at the Compton Metro station around 7 p.m. Saturday when a gunman approaches and fires several shots into the passenger window.
The deputies – identified only as a 31-year-old woman and 24-year-old man – were rushed to a hospital and underwent surgery. The man was released Wednesday, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. The woman is still hospitalized.
Hicks said he was riding his dirtbike all day Saturday. Worried about the false accusation, he said he called the sheriff's Compton station.
On Sunday, the sheriff's department addressed the rumor in a tweet, calling it "ERRONEOUS information." It said there were "no named or wanted suspects at the time."
Hicks' attorney, Brian Dunn of the Cochran Firm, said his client has no connection to the shooting. He criticized the department for not going further to clear Hicks' name, and for its generic description of the suspect as a "dark-skinned male."
"This is an appeal to what we call 'belt whistles' by associating a certain type of violence with a certain race of individuals and it covers millions of people when you just see 'dark skinned' Black male," Dunn told Fox News.
"The sheriff's department does not appear to be interested in tearing down the walls that have separated them from the community. All we saw was a slight post on social media. They should be doing a press conference to clear this man's name."
Hicks said he feared for the safety of himself, his two daughters and his 93-year-old grandmother, with whom he lives. He said he's received death threats and is afraid to take his children out. In addition, the rumors have impacted his daily routine, his apparel business and the way others view him.
"I know for a fact that most people are going to start looking at me differently because they follow trends on social media. They see people saying negative things and a lot of people are going to run with that," he said.
"I just happened to get food yesterday at night and a guy said a joke like, 'Oh, you're the cop killer' and he was just laughing."
It is unclear why Hicks was targeted, Dunn said, but he characterized Hicks as a casualty in efforts to sow distrust amid national race and police issues.
"I've lived through this for at least a part of this week with this man, and I've seen how his life has been turned upside-down," Dunn said. "He didn't do anything to anyone. Yet he's now a casualty in this war of hatred."
Hicks, who lives in Compton, said he prayed for the officers but also feared the attack could result in over-policing in the community.
"I'm scared for everybody else out there because I know that this could lead to a lot and something else can happen to another Black male," he said.
As of Wednesday, no suspect has been identified in connection with the shooting and a reward of more than $300,000 was being offered.