Douglas Cooper said the number of cashbox thefts at his Mattituck farm stand had grown significantly in the summer of 1995.
“It got to the point where it wasn’t once a week,” he told The Suffolk Times in an article published on Aug. 3 of that year. “It was every day.”
Fed up by the thefts, Mr. Cooper took matters into his own hands. First, he wired his cash box to flood lights, so that once opened, the thief would be scared away. When that didn’t stop the thefts from happening, he decided to instead stake out his own farm stand.
Standing behind a boat on his Breakwater Road property the evening of July 26, 1995, he watched as a teenage boy attempted to make off with the $10 to $15 he kept in the box overnight. As the youth attempted to run away, Mr. Cooper tied a rope around him and tied him to the boat. He then called police to report the theft and went back to his hiding place and watched — a Remington 12-gauge shotgun in hand — as a car with three teens inside approached his property.
“Freeze,” he shouted as he walked toward the car, whose driver, an 18-year-old Oakdale woman, tried to speed away.
That’s when Mr. Cooper opened fire, striking the car once in the rear quarter panel and again with a shot that blew out a rear tire.
Nearly 20 years to the day of this incident, Mr. Cooper, a longtime Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education member, is in the news again for another shooting incident that occurred on his property. This time, Southold Town police say he “shot in the direction of” a tenant on his Mattituck property Friday night.
Police said Mr. Cooper, who was processed and released on bail following his latest arrest, had been engaged in a rent dispute with the victim, who was not injured.
Mr. Cooper’s account of what happened Friday differed in the various media outlets that covered the story Saturday.
While he told a Suffolk Times reporter Saturday that he fired the gun but not at somebody, he told southoldlocal.com “no shot was fired.” According to a story published on newsday.com, he said he was shooting in the air to scare a deer. He repeated that claim when reached by telephone again Sunday evening.
“I was shooting to scare off some deer,” he told a Suffolk Times reporter. “I did not and would not [shoot in the direction of my tenant].”
Mr. Cooper, who confirmed he has had “ongoing discussions” about rent with his tenant, said police are saying he shot at his tenant because that’s what was stated in the complaints filed with police.
He was charged with misdemeanor menacing, reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon.
Mr. Cooper’s latest arrest has led to some community residents stating in social media and on various websites that he should resign from his post on the board.
New Mattituck Board of Education president Laura Jens-Smith declined comment Sunday, saying she did not have enough information about the incident to comment.
Mr. Cooper has said he does not believe he needs to step down from the board, but that if someone did, in fact, do what he is accused of, that person should resign.
“I would think that if someone was shooting [at someone], then yes, I would agree with that,” he said.
Mr. Cooper, who also serves on Southold Town’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, was first elected to the school board in 1994.
This week’s arrest brought the past incident back into the spotlight, though Mr. Cooper said that incident was very different since it involved someone stealing from him and attempting to strike him with a car.
In the 1995 incident, he was charged with one felony count of first-degree reckless endangerment for shooting the gun at the car.
Local farmers and other community members rallied support for Mr. Cooper in 1995, even raising funds for his legal defense.
On Nov. 3, 1995, he was granted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. He was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution to cover the damage to the car and, after six months without another arrest, the case was dropped.