LA school officer charged in alleged hoax shooting

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2011 6:41 PM
LA school officer charged in alleged hoax shooting

A school police officer was charged Thursday with falsely claiming he was shot outside a high school _ a report that led authorities to seal thousands of youngsters inside classrooms and scour miles of the San Fernando Valley for a gunman in January.

Jeff Stenroos, 30, was charged with four felony counts of perjury, filing a false insurance claim, preparing a false police report and preparing false evidence. He also was charged with a misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an emergency.

Stenroos faces up to five years in state prison if convicted. He was free on $20,000 bail pending a March 23 arraignment.

The Associated Press was unable to reach Stenroos for comment Thursday, and he has not responded to multiple messages seeking comment in the past. Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said she did not know whether Stenroos had obtained an attorney.

After charges were filed, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced it was beginning the process of firing the nearly eight-year veteran. He had been on paid leave since his January arrest on suspicion of filing a false police report.

"Immediately after this rogue officer perpetuated a hoax that affected thousands, I apologized on behalf of the Los Angeles Unified School District," Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said in a statement. "I remain embarrassed. Mr. Stenroos is neither a good example of the men and women who serve as members of our school police force, nor is he a good example for our students. Lying is never acceptable."

Stenroos triggered a massive manhunt Jan. 19 by claiming that a ponytailed car burglary suspect shot him in his bulletproof vest as Stenroos was patrolling in his car outside the El Camino Real High School campus.

Authorities locked down nine schools, confining 9,000 students to classrooms for hours while more than 550 police officers searched for the gunman, effectively shutting down eight square miles of the neighborhood for some 10 hours. The search cost the city an estimated $500,000.

Nobody was found and Stenroos was arrested the next week on suspicion of filing a false police report.

Stenroos "put into motion a series of events that wasted valuable department resources, negatively impacted thousands of school children and their families, and disrupted the lives of a countless number of people who were inconvenienced by the perimeter set up to catch a suspect who never existed," city Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement Thursday. "Officer Stenroos deserves no leniency and the charges he now faces are more than appropriate after what he put this city through."

It was unclear what actually happened to Stenroos. Police initially said he had been treated for bruising to his chest caused by a bullet striking his vest, but authorities later backed away from that and said there was evidence only that a bullet was fired.

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press last month that Stenroos told investigators he had mishandled a weapon when he was shot.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the gun involved in the shooting belonged to Stenroos but was not his service weapon.

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Associated Press writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.