ADDIS, Louisiana — On Sunday, July 17, Damarcus Alexander stopped at Walmart so his best friend could buy a white shirt for church.
They left Dallas, Texas, at 4 a.m. bound for Belle Rose, Louisiana, a small town an hour south of Baton Rouge, so his friend could sing at a church. They entered the Walmart outside of Baton Rouge, changed into their church clothes, and continued driving.
They didn’t know it but someone had just called 911 describing two black men entering the store and changing clothes just after Gavin Long shot six law enforcement officers across the river.
One of the three dead was Alexander’s cousin, Montrell Jackson. “He was my big cuz,” Alexander said, adding that their families had vacationed together many times. “He saved me from drowning once.”
When he and his friend were changing at Walmart, Alexander hadn’t heard what had happened to his cousin yet, but a few miles down the road, police stopped their car and it wasn’t for condolences.
“Hey, you were just in the Walmart changing, right?” an officer asked them, according to Alexander. “You know what just happened in Baton Rouge? We already got the guy who did it, but we think that he probably didn’t work alone so we’re looking into you two.” Police said their car fit the description of Long’s car at the scene. (It didn’t.)
Soon after they were pulled over, more than a dozen vehicles with officers from every nearby police department had pulled up. All of them were white.
Fortunately, Alexander had proof that they hadn’t been involved in the shooting, because they had stopped at a gas station over 100 miles west of Baton Rouge to buy coffee and snacks at 8:43 a.m., according to the receipt still in the bag. That was three minutes after Long started shooting.
It wasn’t enough for the officers, who still viewed them as suspects.
Alexander said they were handcuffed and locked in the back of a police car without being read their rights. “When we were detained, we asked for phone calls,” he said. “We were not given phone calls.”
The Louisiana State Police and Baton Rouge Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Instead police confiscated their phones by intimidating them. “They made us sign a consent form,” he said. When Alexander asked questions about this, police began cursing at him. “If he wants to be a dick about it, just put his ass back in the car,” he said a plainclothes officer yelled. “He’ll be here for another four hours” to wait for a court order to search his phone.
They also forced Alexander’s friend to pee in a bottle in the back of a police car.
Meanwhile, Alexander still didn’t know who had been killed, but he had seven family members in Baton Rouge law enforcement, including his father, aunt, and uncle, along with Jackson. He was worried too, and kept asking to call his family.
“I don’t know if one of them was shot and killed,” he said. “I was ignored.” He only found out it was his cousin who had been murdered after police released him around 7 p.m.
Alexander and his friend were taken to holding cells at a Louisiana State police station in Baton Rouge. By that time, Alexander, a diabetic, said he needed to take his diabetes medicine.
“Get away from the door, little bitch,” Alexander said one jailer yelled at his friend when he knocked on his cell door.
Rather than giving Alexander medicine, he said police called EMS, who just confirmed that his blood sugar was high and he needed medicine soon.
Instead, “for hours they’re bringing me cookies, and peanuts, and crackers, and juice,” Alexander said. “That’s the exact opposite of what I need.” Officers were worried that he was lying about the medicine to commit suicide.
“What if you die in the back of my car?” he said one officer asked him, citing another time where he had an arrestee try to take an entire bottle of pills.
After several hours, Alexander said he became semi-comatose and was taken to Baton Rouge General Hospital.
By this time, police had finally obtained footage from the Alexandria convenience store and realized Alexander hadn’t been involved with the shooting. They released Alexander’s friend from jail to go pick him up from the hospital.
“I felt helpless,” Alexander said when he was pleading for medicine in the cell.
“I’m really thankful that I wasn’t another hashtag,” he said.