The self-proclaimed chief of a Masonic police force who was charged by Los Angeles County prosecutors of falsely representing himself as actual law enforcement appeared in court Thursday for his arraignment but did not enter a plea.
David Henry, 46, is scheduled to be back in court June 30 with his two co-defendants, Brandon Kiel, 31, who is an aide to state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris; and Tonette Hayes, 59. All three face misdemeanor charges of representing themselves as police. Henry is also charged with three felony counts of perjury and Kiel with a count of unlawful use of a state ID.
Before his case was called, Henry sat quietly outside the San Fernando courtroom with Hayes at his side. He was wearing a black suit with a bow tie and a gold-plated ribbon over his shoulders and across his chest.
Asked to comment on the charges, Henry said with a grin, "I can't talk."
Hayes, who was wearing a minister's white collar, did not respond to a request for comment.
Henry's attorney, Andrew Altholz, declined to comment on behalf of his client.
Altholz objected to the presence of video and still cameras in the courtroom and told Judge David Walgren that media coverage of the case thus far had "been a little bit sensationalized."
"I find it to be prejudicial -- the way the coverage has gone so far," Altholz told Walgren.
The judge said he would not bar media coverage of Henry's case on account of simple criticism.
"I'm certainly not going to exclude the media based on a criticism of how they do coverage," Walgren said.
After the brief court proceeding, Henry and Hayes silently exited the San Fernando Courthouse and were driven away in a white Prius.
Investigators say that in early February, three people — two of them dressed in police uniforms — strolled into the Santa Clarita sheriff's station.
One man introduced himself as chief of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Roosevelt Johnson and told him it was a courtesy call to let him know the agency was setting up shop in the area, Johnson said.
"It was an odd meeting," Johnson said. "It just raised my suspicion level."
They met for 45 minutes, Johnson said, but he was left confused and suspicious — so much so that he immediately ordered deputies to pull station surveillance video so they would have images of the visitors. He also assigned detectives to check them out.
It turns out Henry, Hayes and Kiel had allegedly introduced themselves to police agencies across the state, though it is unclear why. A website claiming to represent their force cites connections to the Knights Templars that it says go back 3,000 years. The site also said the department had jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico.
"When asked what is the difference between the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and other police departments, the answer is simple for us. We were here first!" the website said.
Los Angeles County prosecutors said the whole effort was a ruse, though for what purpose remains unclear. The investigation is continuing.
Authorities are asking anyone who has encountered people posing as officers or has information on the group to call Det. Amalia Hernandez at (323) 980-2211.
In an interview with The Times, Johnson said Kiel did most of the talking during their meeting. Kiel said in addition to his police position, he worked for Harris. When Kiel departed, Johnson said, he left his card from the state Department of Justice.
David Beltran, a spokesman for the state Department of Justice, said Kiel was placed on paid leave April 30 — the date he was arrested. He is paid $67,416 annually as deputy director of community affairs.
Harris has received regular briefings on the case since it began.
"The attorney general has been concerned about these serious allegations from the point she was first briefed on this investigation," Beltran said. "Our office has been cooperating with investigators from the beginning and will continue to do so."
Friends of Kiel rushed to his defense.
"I was in total disbelief. I still don't believe it," Los Angeles businesswoman Ingrid Fields said. "This is not the Brandon that I or dozens of people know."
Employees at the Backwoods Inn restaurant in Santa Clarita remember a day about a month ago when Henry — a regular customer — walked in with a swagger.
He wore a dark blue police uniform with badges and insignia on both arms. He told the staff at the country western-themed eatery off the Sierra Highway he was a police chief and handed out his business card with pride.
It read Masonic Fraternal Police Department in capital letters and identified Henry as Chief Henry 33.
"He was very big on saying, 'I'm the chief, I'm the chief,'" said one server who talked to him when he stopped by two or three times a week. She spoke on the condition that her name not be used.
"He carried himself like a cop, his uniform was spot on to a regular cop uniform, we all thought he was a legit cop," said a chef at the restaurant. Henry regularly brought in his children.
The three were members of a religious philanthropy group that does work in South Los Angeles, which put them in contact with politicians and community leaders.
A spokesman for Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) confirmed that the philanthropy group gave her an award in 2012. A photo shows Waters with Kiel and Henry.
The exact structure of the purported police department was unclear. But on the website, Henry is referred to as "Absolute Supreme Sovereign Grandmaster."