Are there more people out there wearing police uniforms, calling themselves officers and saying they work for a Masonic police force with connections to the Knights Templar?
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is trying to find out, following a bizarre encounter a captain in the Santa Clarita station had with two such individuals in February.
“It was an odd meeting,” said Capt. Roosevelt Johnson. “It just raised my suspicion level.”
Investigators say that in early February, three people — two of them dressed in police uniforms Johnson didn't recognize — strolled into the Santa Clarita station.
One man introduced himself as chief of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and told Johnson this was a courtesy call to let him know the agency was setting up shop in the area.
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.
This week, the three people were charged with impersonating police officers. They are David Henry, who told Johnson he was the police chief, Tonette Hayes and Brandon Kiel, an aide to state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.
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 they say go back 3,000 years. The site also said that 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 if anyone has encountered more people posing as officers or has information on the group – officials say that multiple agencies are involved in the investigation and received letters from the organization – 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.”
Fields said she has known Kiel since he was a 6-year-old neighbor and was friends with Fields' daughter.
While Fields said she didn't know about the police connection, those who knew Henry said the 46-year-old was very open about his role.
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.
Employees said Henry told them the department had set up offices in a strip mall next to a storefront church in Santa Clarita.
Henry was charged with multiple misdemeanors and three counts of felony perjury. He is scheduled to be arraigned May 21.
Kiel is charged with six counts of impersonating an officer and unlawful use of a state ID. Hayes was charged with four counts of impersonating an officer. Both have been bailed out of jail and no court date has been set.
The three were members of a religious philanthropy group that does work in South Los Angeles. Their work put them in contact with various politicians and community leaders. A spokesman for Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) confirmed that the 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.”
Staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.
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