Norris Cooper, a custodian at Webster Academy, tells us about the humiliation he experienced last week when he was detained by police at school in a burglary investigation that led to the arrests of three other janitors. Cooper has not been implicated. -Katy
I was taking out the garbage at Webster Academy Sept. 8 when a police officer approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He said that there was a problem here, and that I knew about the problem, was a part of the problem, or could help them solve the problem.
I asked what the problem was, and he said it was computer theft. He then told me to step around the corner of the building and asked, “Where are the computers?” When I said that I knew nothing about the computers, he said that my fellow co-workers were “singing on me like birds.” Then he walked away as another officer approached. This second officer asked if I were on probation, if I had any outstanding warrants, and when was the last time I had been arrested. I told him that I was not on probation, had no warrants, and had never been arrested. He then said I was going to spend a long time in Santa Rita. I told him that I would not be spending any time in Santa Rita, and he walked away.
A third officer then approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He asked if I had any Oakland Unified property in my house, and I told him that I didn’t. He asked if he could see for himself, and I told him that he could if he had a search warrant. He wanted to know why would he need a search warrant if I had nothing to hide. Eventually, I agreed to sign a consent form to allow them to search my house.
That afternoon, I was placed into a squad car — in front of the school, with teachers, parents, administrators, and students looking on — and taken to the Eastmont sub-station, where I signed the form. I rode to my house with two of the officers, who left me in the car during the search. They came out empty-handed.
I have been employed with the Oakland school district since 1990 and have had perfect attendance from that time until now. I was Custodian of the Year in 1994. I am known throughout the district — from custodial services to human resources to school administrators — for my impeccable work and outstanding performance. I typically spend sixteen plus hours a day, seven days a week, working to perfection. Webster Academy was one of the dirtiest schools in the district — infested with pests and with notoriously smelly restrooms — before I came there. It is now recognized as the cleanest school in the district, and has become a flagship school for training custodians and hosting district events.
This whole drama has permanently damaged my reputation. Being detained in a squad car for several hours over the course of this saga was humiliating and uncomfortable. My brother called me the next day, alarmed, because an OUSD employee had told him that I had been arrested and was in jail. Though I was back on the job the next day, rumors that I had been jailed for the theft of the computers from Webster Academy had already swept throughout the district.
I called Buildings & Grounds to place a work order for a plumber, and the clerk was shocked to hear my voice. The students and the teachers at Webster were disturbed by the sight of me being put into a police car and hauled away.
Contrary to the hope expressed by district spokesman Troy Flint, a hard-working, law-abiding staff member has been irrevocably “painted with this brush,” even though I have been completely exonerated.