Jeff Stenroos, Police Officer Accused Of Fake Shooting, Convicted Of Fraud
By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES -- A school police officer who sparked a school lockdown and a massive manhunt after he claimed to have been shot while on patrol was convicted Monday of fraud and other offenses for making the whole thing up.
In a non-jury trial, a judge found Officer Jeff Stenroos guilty of felony counts of insurance fraud, workers' compensation fraud, preparing false documentary evidence and planting false evidence.
Officials were quick to condemn Stenroos, who radioed colleagues Jan. 19 to say a ponytailed burglary suspect had shot him in his bulletproof vest.
"Stenroos is a disgrace to the Los Angeles School Police Department and this district," Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement.
Stenroos was placed on paid administrative leave after the supposed shooting. Officials will now move to fire him.
The 31-year-old officer was ordered detained without bail Monday and was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. As he left, he turned to his wife and mouthed, "Love you."
Stenroos was also found guilty of one misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an emergency. He could face up to five years in prison.
In his closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Paul Nunez contended Stenroos fired a bullet into his own protective vest, planted a shell casing, and repeatedly gave false accounts about what happened even from his hospital bed. The prosecutor said Stenroos wanted to win fame and go on medical leave.
"He wanted the attention, he wanted the fame, he wanted the status. ... He played the part of the traumatized officer," Nunez said. "He wanted to manipulate everyone."
Prosecutors played videotaped snippets of a two-hour interview with police more than a week after the incident. In it, Stenroos describes to detectives the pain of being shot.
"I said, `Oh my god, oh my god' ... pain like you wouldn't believe," he said.
When asked if he would swear that his account was true, Stenroos raises a hand and says, "Before God, I was shot by a (expletive) with a ponytail and a black leather jacket."
At the end of the interview, however, he recants and admits to fabricating his story.
His initial report prompted the lockdown of 9,000 students at area middle, elementary and high schools for up to 10 hours while police delayed traffic and searched for a suspect across an 8-square-mile area in the San Fernando Valley.
One of Stenroos' attorneys, Dennis Elber, argued his client was guilty of just one count – misdemeanor false reporting of an emergency. Elber said there was either no evidence to support the more serious charges, or those laws did not apply in this case.
"Yes, he put out a false public emergency and yes, he is guilty of that," Elber said. "But it's got to stop where the law says it should stop."
Prosecutors noted that the school district was left on the hook for some $57,000 in medical expenses and that Stenroos received full pay while on a medical stress leave.
Superior Court Judge Richard H. Kirschner did not make a ruling on another charge of making a false report to school police. He ordered lawyers to file briefs on whether the law states that preparing a false police report has to be written or given orally.
Associated Press writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.