Updated after the jump with a PHOTO of Jeffrey Stenroos, who has admitted to shooting himself in the chest.
Update: Word on the street is Stenroos probably shot himself. He's out of jail after posting $20,000 bail but
HAS BEEN FIRED IS ON PAID LEAVE. Wow. One city leader is “flabbergasted,” and Chief Beck's “furious.”
Update: Police leaguers call Stenroos an embarrassment to the badge. The shooting's “witness” only came to Stenroos' rescue after the officer was down, and therefore had no idea what really happened.
El Camino Real High and eight surrounding Valley schools were on lockdown for up to six hours on Wednesday, January 19. Over 9,000 students were shut in their classrooms without food or means of going to the bathroom while thousands of LAPD, school officers and sheriff's deputies conducted a massive seven-square-mile manhunt in Woodland Hills. Traffic was backed up in all directions. And within a couple days, city leaders were offering a $100,000 reward for the hunted.
All because Los Angeles School Police Department Officer Jeffrey Stenroos claimed he'd been shot by an unidentified man in the El Camino parking lot.
PHOTO of Stenroos, given to NBC Los Angeles by L.A. Unified:
Tonight, however, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck threw a total curve ball at the press and public: Stenroos is being arrested for filing a false report.
It's a felony charge — officers wouldn't accuse their colleague of something this serious unless they were sure of it.
Stenroos reported having been shot in the chest after trying to stop the man from breaking into parked cars, though he was allegedly saved by the bulletproof vest he was wearing. Tonight, Beck basically said the whole thing was a big lie.
He said detectives now believe there's no suspect on the loose, based on an intensive week-long LAPD investigation that included many conversations with members of the surrounding community.
Relive the January 19 fiasco, complete with Tweets from scared students and the largest police perimeter in recent Valley memory: “L.A. School Police Officer Shot in Chest at El Camino High in Woodland Hills.”
It's hard to imagine what the true story beneath the “lie” could be: On the day of the alleged shooting, medical officials at Northridge Hospital spoke in detail about the bruise on Stenroos' chest, supposedly left behind by the bullet. There were also reports he suffered injuries from a post-shooting fall to the pavement.
And what about the (alleged) witness? According to Chief Beck, from the Weekly's original report: “Our best info is that the officer stumble — made it back to his car, at which time a good Samaritan, a local resident” used the officer's dispatch radio to call for help.
Update: The Los Angeles Times reports that ” a senior LAPD official close to the investigation” says Stenroos, who's been on the force for eight years, “admitted to fabricating a story that he had been shot last week.”
“The official said investigators are still piecing together how Stenroos pulled off the alleged hoax,” writes the Times. The league is shamed:
The president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League called the incident an “embarrassment to law enforcement.”
“The law enforcement community is disgusted,” Paul M. Weber said in a statement. “While Mr. Stenroos is a disgrace to his badge, his individual and dangerous actions should not reflect on the hardworking men and women in law enforcement.”
KCAL9 talked to the aforementioned “good Samaritan” who made the radio call from Stenroos' cop car upon finding the officer shot — and he's as floored as the rest of us, as he didn't witness the shooting itself.
For the high-speed version of this bad-cop shocker, see Jill Stewart's “Jeff Stenroos Lied, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Says: Entire Shooting at El Camino High School Was Fake, Manhunt Cancelled.”
“We go where these investigations take us,” Chief Beck said, visibly tired at the brief press conference tonight. “Finding the truth and obtaining some form of justice is what we're about.”
Who would have imagined the investigation would lead police right back to one of their own?
Well, sort of. Stenroos is part of the L.A. School Police Department, not the LAPD. Read the full Weekly investigation into this strange, largely unregulated little sector of Los Angeles law enforcement: “LAUSD's Finest: How an oblivious school board lets a tiny, scandal-ridden force endanger L.A. kids.”
Update, 6:30 a.m.: CBS Los Angeles quotes an anonymous official as implying Stenroos shot himself in the chest (and it is, really, the only logical explanation at this point):
The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the case, said Stenroos was mishandling a firearm when he was shot, but he did not go into any more detail.
In the decidedly overhyped manhunt in the days following the El Camino High parking-lot “shooting,” two suspects matching the composite were detained, questioned and released. We now assume Stenroos invented all the traits of the “suspect” in his head: white, mis-40s, gray-brown ponytail, blue jeans, either a dark bomber jacket or hooded sweatshirt, semiautomatic handgun. The description is disturbingly detailed.
Incoming LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy's statement at the time is equally eerie in hindsight: He told ABC7 that Stenroos had “an impeccable record and should not be questioned.”
And this last piece doesn't fit, via AOL News:
Los Angeles' KFI640 radio reported that no neighbors in the vicinity of the shooting heard a gunshot and that investigators soon began to doubt Stenroos' story.
L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine, who played it cute a couple nights after the shooting by donating 1 cent to the $100,000 reward pot (to round out the 99 Cent Store's equally cute $9,999 contribution), now tells AOL he's “flabbergasted” and “doesn't now what to say”:
“To do something like this is unconscionable, stupid and asinine,” he says. “To stage something like this puts a very negative mark on himself and law enforcement. … If this is true, we need to go after him to repay the taxpayers. I would press for a civil claim against him. I've spent 43 years in law enforcement, and I can't fathom coming up with this story.”
Current Superintendent Ramon Cortines tells KTLA that he's “outraged” — and that as of this morning, Stenroos is fired.
“I intend to relieve this employee this morning,” Cortines said. …
“I just want to apologize that one of our employees played a hoax on the city of L.A. and especially our schools and our staff and their families,” he said.
“But I also don't want anybody to think that this one individual reflects the high standard and regard I have for the men and women in blue that protect our schools, our students and our staff every day,” he added.
Update, 12:30 p.m.: Though Superintendent Cortines says in a statement that he has “directed our General Counsel David Holmquist and Los Angeles School Police Chief Steven K. Zipperman to immediately relieve Jeff Stenroos of duty and begin the process for immediate dismissal,” no involved party has any idea how long it will take.
And until that process is finished, according to LASPD Chief Zipperman, Stenroos will be placed on paid “administrative leave.” (Reminds us of the Villaraigosa staffer who's currently being paid to sit at home after attacking a police officer at the downtown Conga Room last weekend.)
Zipperman's statement reads:
“Mr. Stenroos will be relieved from his duty as a police officer and administratively assigned to home as the administrative and criminal investigation continues. And, I have reinforced our core values and reminded members of the department to, at all times, act with the integrity and professionalism expected by the public, the superintendent and this department.”
LAUSD's deputy director of media relations, Gayle Pollard-Terry, tells us that they're currently reviewing the Police Officers Bill of Rights to calculate how long it would take to fire Stenroos, but tells us that she “[doesn't] know if it'll take 60 days or what.” She says lawyers are involved and “we're trying to figure that out.”
Meanwhile, Chief Beck let's City News Service know he's “furious” and “not at all happy with this individual's actions.” He told reporters:
“I think that he caused an immense amount of pain to many members of the city of Los Angeles — be they employees, or be they residents — through his misinformation. And that led to his prosecution. I will prosecute him vigorously.”
Update, February 1, 10:21 a.m.: Stenroos is still maintaining that he accidentally shot himself. He's also still on paid leave. According to the Los Angeles Times:
Investigators said Stenroos' behavior in the days after the shooting made them suspicious. Repeatedly, they tried to arrange a meeting with Stenroos; they said they hadn't wanted to press him too hard while he was in the hospital and now needed to conduct a follow-up interview. Stenroos, according to the sources, seemed to be avoiding them.
Days after the incident, Stenroos checked himself into Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, complaining of chest pains.
Bizarre all around.
Originally posted January 27 at 9:27 p.m.
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