The sight shocked him – in a good way.
For Christopher Dias, surprise came as he carried out one of his habitually plain chores: buying groceries.
Dias had already made his food selections, had waited in a busy Harris Teeter checkout line, had reached his turn to pay at a register and was close to heading out into the Hope Valley Commons parking lot when he saw Durham County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Joseph Derilus.
The uniformed deputy came over and pulled open a plastic grocery bag.
“Officer Derilus came over to my line and started carefully bagging my groceries and putting them in my cart!” Dias wrote in an email. “Derilus drew no attention to himself. He simply smiled and quietly placed items in my cart until everything had been scanned and bagged.”
“I was a bit stunned at the encounter,” Dias said.
Dias’s first thought was that local law enforcement must have been carrying out a public relations campaign of some kind.
After paying for his groceries and loading them into his car, Dias went back inside the grocery store and found Derilus “at yet another lane, helping another customer,” he said.
Dias said Derilus told him, that the bagging was not part of or because of any sort of mandated PR campaign.
So, Dias wrote an email which included the words, “I can’t think of a better example of an officer who is dedicated to protecting and SERVING the people of Durham!”
Derilus bagged groceries and chatted with cashiers for an hour and a half while working a shift as an off-duty security officer at the grocery store.
“I saw the opportunity. It was busy that day and the lines were getting longer,” Derilus said. “So I just took it upon myself — the best way of serving them was to help them.”
Derilus was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, emigrated to the U.S. when he was 3 and was raised in Miami.
His wish to go to work as a lawman started in the fourth grade, he said, after he witnessed a policeman bring a police K-9 to an elementary school career day and listened to a story of lives’ saved, about a trapped couple rescued from a car.
“I was like ‘Oohh, that’s what I want to do,’” Derilus said. “… He had a K-9 and everything. …”
But fresh out of high school, Derilus couldn’t immediately pursue his career of choice. The reason? Derilus had to become a U.S. citizen before he could become a cop.
Derilus is now 41 and he landed his first law enforcement gig two-and-half years ago with the Greensboro Police Department. He started as a deputy for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office this fall.
“He felt felt like he wanted to help in some form, or way or fashion,” Sheriff Mike Andrews said of the help Derilus offered at the checkout line. “And I assume he felt that he was putting a smile on somebody else’s face, and plus it made him feel good.
“I didn’t ask him to bag any groceries, and didn’t no one else direct him to bag any groceries,” Andrews said. “That’s something he felt, out of his own character. I can’t instill that, we can’t teach deputies that. That started at home.”
Andrews added that he had once bagged groceries as a teenager, but never in uniform. And a lot of people were surprised by the sight of Derilus – in his uniform – bagging loaves of bread, cans, a baby carrot or two and celery sticks.
“It was like they were seeing the president of the United States bagging their groceries,” he said. “They were like ‘Wow. You are bagging my groceries?’”
Derilus recalled what he told the people with surprised faces and he wore a pleased grin when he recalled it. “I told them, ‘It’s the season of serving,’” he said.
One shopper insisted the deputy take a picture with her son in the front of the Harris Teeter, after he helped her with her grocery bags.
One woman asked, “’I thought you guys just went out and take people to jail’,” Derilus said, adding, “But I think she probably tried to mean that in a funny way. But, we had people that were serious about it and said ‘I never thought, y’all would stoop down and bag some groceries.’”
Andrews said the job of a deputy requires the women and men who perform it to wear many metaphorical hats.
“There are times, that you have to cinch your belt up. But, there are a whole lot of things that can be stopped, by the way you respond, you act, the way you communicate,” Andrews said. “That’s what was instilled in me as a young deputy when I first started here, a long time ago.”