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Cop who staged shooting may serve only fraction of sentence

December 14, 2011 | 12:52 pm

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef014e8b803b3e970d-640wi

Jeffrey Stenroos, the former Los Angeles school police officer who staged his own shooting in a bizarre hoax, was sentenced Wednesday to five years in county jail. The judge in the case told Stenroos, however, he would have to serve only two years if he met the terms of his probation, according to court officials.

Convicted in September of planting false evidence, insurance fraud and other crimes, Stenroos, 31, appeared to receive no mercy from Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard N. Kirschner, who handed down the heftiest sentence permitted under state guidelines. But the judge then told Stenroos that he will walk free after only two years and remain so as long as he finished 400 hours of community service, paid a yet-to-be-decided amount of restitution and met other terms of his probation, said Jane Robison, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

And instead of sending Stenroos to a state-run prison as prosecutors had wanted, Kirschner said he would remain in a Los Angeles County jail -– apparently because of a recently enacted plan meant to ease overcrowding in state prisons. The sentence came after Stenroos underwent a 90-day psychological evaluation to assess whether he should go to prison or receive probation.

Called “a disgrace,” by the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and chided by Los Angeles Police Department officials for trivializing actual dangers police face, Stenroos’ faked shooting on Jan. 19 triggered a massive and costly manhunt for a fabricated assailant that brought a swath of the San Fernando Valley to a standstill for hours.

Stenroos, a nearly 8-year veteran of the school police, was found by a passerby in apparent pain on the sidewalk near El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills. He told officers that 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. Stenroos' bulletproof vest had apparently saved him from serious injury or death.

Believing there was a gunman loose in the area, more than 550 police officers combed the quiet neighborhoods near the school, conducting door-to-door searches and keeping an 8-mile area locked down for 10 hours.

Police were perplexed and suspicious of Stenroos’ account almost from the outset. A spent shell casing found at the scene and bruising on Stenroos' chest seemed to support his story. But the officer gave investigators conflicting accounts of how the shooting had unfolded, telling them, for example, that there had been only one shot fired and then changing his story to say there had been several. Then, in the days after the shooting, he dodged investigators who wanted to question him further.

During the trial, an LAPD detective testified that Stenroos admitted to faking the attack, confessing that he had accidentally shot himself while trying to clean his weapon – an explanation that remains dubious. Prosecutors and police officials have alleged Stenroos may have shot himself intentionally to gain notoriety.

Stenroos’ attorney, Tim Murphy, rejected that notion. The officer had been sitting in his office at the school when he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun, Murphy said in an earlier interview. After realizing he was not seriously injured, Stenroos went about his patrol duties and was overcome by a delayed pain from the impact of the bullet and fell to the sidewalk, Murphy said.

City officials have said they are seeking more than $350,000 in restitution from Stenroos to cover the costs of the dragnet, and the school district is seeking $58,000 in medical costs. A hearing to determine how much Stenroos must pay was scheduled for Jan. 19.

Murphy could not be reached immediately after the sentencing for comment. In a past interview he conceded that his client had made “an incredibly stupid mistake” by lying about the shooting, but said it was never proven that Stenroos acted intentionally and with intent to commit fraud.

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--Joel Rubin (twitter.com/joelrubin)

Photo: Jeffrey Stenroos. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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