On Feb. 17, Steven Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, sent a letter to all local law enforcement agencies, asking them for help in “aiding in the detection, reporting and prosecution of violent crimes against Census Bureau workers.”
During the 2010 Census, Dillingham and the Inspector General at the Department of Commerce wrote the law enforcement agencies, Census employees visited 47 million homes and were the victims of more than 700 reported acts of violence across the country. Census workers have been robbed, carjacked, and kidnapped while going door-to-door. “While some of these crimes were ultimately investigated and successfully prosecuted, others were not,” Dillingham wrote. “Additionally, it is likely that other criminal acts against Census employees may not have been reported.”
Just six weeks ago, an 82-year-old woman in Orangeburg County, in South Carolina, was arrested after she pointed a gun at a Census workers and fired two shots over the employee’s vehicle. The worker was backing out of the driveway when she did so.
Assaulting a Census employee is a federal crime. But it is generally prosecuted locally, as Michael William Cooper may soon find out.
Cooper is a 32-year-old resident of 4758 Clove Avenue in Daytona North, the west Bunnell area known as the Mondex. Monday evening, he was booked at the Flagler County jail on a felony charge of aggravated assault for allegedly responding to a Census worker’s inquiry by pointing an assault-style rifle at him as he screamed and forced him off his property.
The incident took place in early evening when Johnny Swinney, the 46-year-old federal employee–Census workers like him are called enumerators or field representatives–pulled up to Cooper’s property, parked (off the property line) and walked up to the dwelling, a mobile home Cooper has owned for just over a year.
According to Cooper’s arrest report, Cooper was sitting on his porch. Swinney identified himself as a federal Census worker. There was a sign to that effect on the front of his vehicle and a prominent sign on his lanyard, which Census workers are required to show individuals before they start interviewing them.
According to Swinney, a resident of Putnam County, Cooper “immediately became irate and began to scream at [Swinney] to get off of his property.” Swinney said he attempted to explain to Cooper why he was there and that he was not trying to cause a disturbance. Cooper walked into his residence and came back out “with what appeared to be a black in color assault style rifle and chambered a round.”
Swinney turned around and began to leave. As soon as he got into his vehicle, he heard a shot fired. . He called law enforcement as he drove away. His wife was in the passenger seat. She corroborated the account, describing Cooper as yelling at Swinney before coming back out with the rifle and walking behind Swinney until he was off the property. She wasn’t sure if her husband was aware that Cooper was pointing the gun at him, and “frantically” honked the horn to catch his attention, according to the arrest report.
Cooper spoke to deputies. He told them that he did immediately yell at Swinney to get off his property, because he considered him to be trespassing, but the Census worker kept walking toward him. Cooper claimed Swinney was not wearing a badge nor had identified himself, and that he then went into his residence, armed himself with an assault rifle, and locked the door before walking back out, “carrying it at the low and ready,” he told deputies, and chambering a round in front of Swinney.
“When asked about the round being fired,” his arrest report states, “he stated that he shot it into the ground after Johnny left because he already chambered a round and did not want to leave a round in the chamber.” Neighbors told a different story. They told deputies that they saw Cooper immediately start screaming loud enough that he could be heard over the noise of a lawnmower neighbors were using–and that even from their distance across the street, they could see the Census worker’s identifying badge.
Cooper, the investigating deputy concluded, “had no legitimate reason to fear for his life or brandish a deadly firearm towards [Swinney]. [Cooper] admitted to entering the residence and locking the door behind him, and then returning back outside to confront Johnny with a rifle instead of call Law Enforcement if he believed his life was being threatened.”
Cooper faces a third-degree felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was booked on $7,500 bond, which he posted on Tuesday. His attorney, Michael Lambert of Daytona Beach, has already filed a motion to dismiss.
The following is from the Department of Commerce, which administers the 2020 Census:
How to Identify a Census Employee?
If you are visited by someone from the Census Bureau, they may be working on the 2020 Census or one of our other surveys. The Census Bureau conducts over 100 surveys throughout the country in addition to the decennial census. Here are some ways you can verify an individual is a Census Bureau employee. The census taker or field representative will present an ID badge that includes:
a Department of Commerce watermark, and
an expiration date.
They will have an official bag and Census Bureau-issued electronic device, such as a laptop or smartphone, bearing the Census Bureau logo. Census takers and field representatives will conduct their work between the hours of 9am and 9pm, local time. Census representatives will be at local organizations and community events with computer tablets to help individuals respond online to the 2020 Census.
The best way to avoid being visited at home by a census taker, or enumerator, is to complete the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail. Census takers for the 2020 Census report to their local Regional Census Centers. Please contact your local Regional Census Center if you have questions about the 2020 Census or local census takers.
For Census Bureau surveys other than the 2020 Census, Census Bureau field representatives report to one of six Regional Offices across the country. If you wish to independently confirm that the person at your door is a Census Bureau field representatives conducting a household survey other than the 2020 Census you can enter their name in the Census Bureau’s staff search website, or contact the Regional Office for your state. For Florida, the Regional Office is as follows:
George Grandy Jr., Regional Director
Atlanta Regional Office
101 Marietta Street, NW, Suite 3200
Atlanta, GA 30303-2700
(404) 730-3832 or 1-800-424-6974
FAX: (404) 730-3835
TDD: (404) 730-3963
E-mail: [email protected]