A Southern California sheriff’s deputy who set off a massive manhunt when he allegedly faked being shot by a sniper outside his station has left colleagues furious, with his boss moving to boot him off the force and investigators probing potential criminal charges.
Deputy Angel Reinosa, a 21-year-old trainee with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, prompted widespread panic and a large-scale response from law enforcement last week when he radioed an emergency dispatcher and dramatically stated he’d been hit by sniper fire in the parking lot of the sheriff department’s Lancaster station. He even showed investigators his damaged bulletproof vest, which he claimed saved his life, officials said.
But in a stunning twist, officials said on Saturday that Reinosa confessed to fabricating the attack by a sharpshooter, and cut a hole in his bulletproof vest to bolster his hoax.
“When the news broke on Wednesday, I dropped everything I was doing to be at Lancaster and check on the welfare of Deputy Reinosa,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a statement released Sunday night.
Villanueva went on to express frustration and fury that he and numerous members of his department and neighboring law enforcement agencies had to waste “needless time and energy on something that did not happen.”
“Rather than delay reporting what we learned for another day, I felt that it was urgent that we share the truth with the public. As Sheriff, I am responsible for my deputies and am embarrassed [and] incredibly disappointed at what this Deputy did,” Villanueva said in his statement. “I apologize to our community and our elected officials who rallied in our support.”
Attempts by ABC News to reach Reinosa have not been successful.
Police are still trying to figure out a motive for the ruse that put the community in jeopardy.
“Much of his statement was self-serving, didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Capt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide division, said at a news conference on Saturday.
Reinosa claimed the shot that hit him in the shoulder of his bulletproof vest just as he was preparing to remove it came from a government-subsidized apartment building across the street from the station, prompting SWAT teams to sweep the complex and clear out residents in a futile search for the phantom gunman, officials said.
The bogus incident happened one week after six Philadelphia police officers were injured when a man unleashed a barrage of gunfire from the second-story of an apartment building, sending shockwaves across the country as the hours-long standoff with the suspect unfolded on live TV.
Villaneuva said investigators were suspicious of the validity of Reinosa’s story early on, “but had to exercise care before accusing an employee of making false statements.”
Once investigators separated fact from fiction and Reinosa confessed, the sheriff said he felt “compelled to share the disappointing truth” with the community, since Reinosa had “violated the public’s trust.”
Villaneuva said he hopes the actions of one individual do not tarnish the work that members of his agency do every day to protect the public.
“Like any subject of an internal investigation, Deputy Reinosa is entitled to due process,” Villanueva’s statement reads. “I will not tolerate anyone who willfully violates their oath of office, makes a false police report, wastes valuable public safety resources, and causes fear in the community. Those who choose to violate the public’s trust will face at minimum termination and a potential criminal prosecution.”
The Association of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs also released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the hoax allegedly perpetrated by one of their own union members, and apologizing for the “unnecessary strain” it put on the local community during the citywide manhunt that included the sheriff’s department deploying a helicopter with police snipers patrolling the skies.
“Not only does it bring discredit to the department and our deputies, it jeopardizes the trust and good faith we ask for from the public and elected officials,” reads the union’s statement. “Worst of all, it’s a slap in the face of deputies who have been shot in the line of duty, and to the families of those who paid the ultimate price for their service.”