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Cop who staged shooting 'a disgrace,' schools chief says

September 12, 2011 |  5:26 pm

Photo: Jeffrey Stenroos. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times Jeffrey Stenroos, the Los Angeles school police officer accused of staging his own shooting, was found guilty Monday of the hoax that triggered a massive and costly manhunt for the phantom attacker.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard N. Kirschner convicted Stenroos, 31, of several felonies and a misdemeanor charge in the non-jury trial, including planting false evidence, insurance fraud and workers’ compensation fraud. Stenroos, who had been free on bail, was taken into custody immediately after Kirschner announced his verdict.

The judge ordered that Stenroos be sent to state prison for a 90-day psychological evaluation to assess whether he should be sentenced to prison or receive probation. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 14. Stenroos faces five years in prison, a district attorney's official said.

Calling Stenroos “a disgrace,” John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said in a statement that the conviction cleared the way for Stenroos to be fired. Stenroos has been on paid leave since the incident.

“His actions were particularly appalling because he trivialized the real dangers Los Angeles police officers face every day,” said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who pointed to a sharp increase in the number of attacks on city police this year. “Assaults against officers are up, and for someone to turn that into a hoax is abhorrent.”

Stenroos, a nearly eight-year veteran of the school police, was found Jan. 19 by a passerby rolling around in apparent pain on the sidewalk near El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills. He told officers he had been following up on a report of a car burglar in the area when a man with a ponytail and bomber-style jacket shot him in the chest and fled. His bullet-proof vest had apparently saved him from serious injury or death.

The incident was both brazen and confusing. Believing there was a dangerous gunman loose in the area, more than 550 police officers fanned out over the typically placid neighborhoods surrounding the school. For 10 hours police kept an eight-square-mile area locked down, badly disrupting people’s routines as they tried to return home or get to work. Some children were kept locked in their school classrooms for so long, they resorted to using trash cans as toilets.

An expended bullet casing found at the scene as well as bruising on Stenroos’ chest seemed to support his story. But almost immediately investigators began to have suspicions. Stenroos gave police conflicting accounts of how the shooting had unfolded, telling them, for example, there had been only one shot fired and then changing his story to say there had been several. In the days after the shooting, he tried to avoid investigators, who wanted to question him further.

During the trial, an LAPD detective testified that Stenroos ultimately admitted to faking the attack, confessing that he'd accidentally shot himself while trying to clean his weapon. 

It remains unclear whether this account is accurate or whether Stenroos shot himself intentionally in order to gain fame, as some have said.

City officials are seeking more than $350,000 in restitution from Stenroos to cover the costs of the dragnet, and the Los Angeles Unified School District is seeking $58,000 for his medical costs.

An attorney for Stenroos could not be reached for comment.

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--Joel Rubin (twitter.com/joelrubin)

Photo: Jeffrey Stenroos. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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