Tahlequah Daily Press

January 15, 2014

Police: Teen posing as trooper went too far

Officials say he didn’t appear to intend harm, but commented on the ease with which he obtained trappings of the trade

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Investigators say a local teenager with dreams of becoming a state trooper went too far last weekend when he decided it “might be cool to stop a car.”

Two women told deputies Sunday that an unidentified driver of a truck approached them at about 2:45 a.m. near Dry Creek. The pair were inside a vehicle parked outside the home of the brother of one woman.

When the teen made contact with the women, he asked for a license and registration and claimed he was responding to a noise complaint. The woman said the man was wearing a hooded shirt with “state trooper” printed in white letters, and flashing police lights appeared to be coming from a cell phone hanging inside the man’s truck.

After repeatedly asking the man for a badge, a passenger in the truck ran inside to get her brother. At that point, the 18-year-old got back into his truck and sped away.

According to Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault, Deputy Dexter Scott recognized the description of the man and his vehicle and pinpointed an 18-year-old Keys man whom Scott knew was interested in becoming a state trooper.

Scott, Chennault and an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper later met with the teen, who admitted to being the driver they were seeking.

“He told us he was out driving at around 8 Saturday night when a car passed by him at a high rate of speed, and that aggravated him, so he says he started flashing his lights at the car and they eventually pulled over,” said Chennault.

A man and woman were in that car, and when the 18-year-old began to question the couple, the man in the vehicle became agitated and the teen decided to leave.

“He got with a buddy later that night and told him what had happened, and they apparently thought it would be cool to try a traffic stop,” said Chennault. “They then went looking for a car and came across the two women who were in their vehicle already parked in a driveway.”

The teen told authorities the women asked to see a badge, so he began asking if they would take a breathalyzer test in an attempt to avert their attention. When one of the women ran inside to get her brother, the teen and his buddy left.

Chennault said the teen had downloaded police lights on a smart phone, and purchased the state trooper shirt from the Internet.

“It seems he had no intention of harming the women, and he swears he only made contact with those two vehicles,” said Chennault.

Chennault said the teen claims he never told the people he spoke with that he was a police officer. Still, investigators want the District Attorney’s Office to ultimately decide what action to take.

According to Chennault, the teen hasn’t been arrested because investigators aren’t sure how state law is to be interpreted.

“The statute prohibits trying to pass yourself off as a law enforcement officer, and from what we can tell, he didn’t actually identify himself as a trooper,” said Chennault. “We are going to write up our report and send it to the DA. We feel more comfortable letting prosecutors decide whether to charge him.”

Authorities seized the teenager’s state trooper shirt, and he voluntarily removed the phone app that mimics a police light.

“After we spoke with him, he was very remorseful,” said Chennault.

“We don’t have this happen often, but it raises alarms to us that you can use your phone to download a police-type light that is realistic enough, and that you can order law enforcement paraphernalia off the Internet without any type of identification.”

Drivers who see flashing lights and feel uneasy about a traffic stop can call 911 and ask dispatchers to verify that a known officer is making the stop.

“If you can, try to pull over in a well-lit or public area,” said Chennault. “Tell the dispatcher what area you’re in and provide as many details as possible.”

Chennault admits situations similar to the one last weekend, though rare, present difficult scenarios. He believes most officers will understand when a driver continues traveling until finding a well-lit or public area.

“It might aggravate the police officer at first, but if you can articulate you were in fear, he or she should understand,” said Chennault. “My suggestion is if you’re being stopped and want to find a well-lit or populated area, don’t speed up and don’t take evasive action, just continue driving the speed limit until you find a good place to pull over.”