Fake Masonic police aimed to improve relations with black community, lawyer says

The trio accused of running a so-called Masonic police department created the agency in an attempt to improve relations between African Americans and law enforcement, said a lawyer for one of the three defendants. 

Attorney Gary Casselman said that the trio believed they were doing things aboveboard and had filed paperwork to carry weapons, applied for the type of vehicle license plates used by government agencies and sent letters introducing themselves to police departments.

"It was supposed to be somewhere where people who didn't trust the regular police could go and make their reports of misconduct known and then these folks, the Masonics, would take it to recognized police," Casselman said. "They would be a go-between."

Casselman's description this week marked the first public explanation for why Brandon Kiel, Tonette Hayes and David Henry set up a faux police force they called the Masonic Fraternal Police Department.

Casselman said to his knowledge the trio never performed any "police functions."

"I think the phraseology got ahead of the actions," he said. 

The three face misdemeanor charges of falsely representing themselves as police officers, according to the criminal complaint filed by Los Angeles County prosecutors. 

Henry, the self-described chief of the police force that claimed to descend from the Knights Templar, also faces three felony counts of perjury. Kiel, an aide with the California Department of Justice, faces one misdemeanor count of unlawful use of a state identification.

An arraignment for the trio was delayed this week until July 29. 

Sheriff's officials say that in early February, the three arrived at the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s station, two of them wearing police uniforms.

They told sheriff’s Capt. Roosevelt Johnson that they were conducting a courtesy call to inform him that their police force was setting up shop in the area. Johnson grew suspicious and started an investigation.

Henry and Hayes have declined to comment on the case, but in a video posted on YouTube last month Henry said the police department was in "the beginning stages" when the three people were charged. 

In the video, Henry said the police department was created with the intent of "protecting our communities." The video included images from protests after the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford by Los Angeles Police Department officers last year.

"It is people in this jurisdiction, my jurisdiction, that go out there on the front line and fight for young black men, young black women being gunned down by law enforcement," he said in the video, a masonic police badge logo superimposed next to his face.  

Henry, wearing a gold-plated necklace with Masonic imagery, accused local law enforcement agencies of cracking down on the police force in a "plot to destroy the California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris campaign” for U.S. Senate in 2016.   

Henry criticized the intense media coverage given to the trio's arrest and said the Sherrif's Department was "feeding" The Times information that other media outlets then duplicated.  

Henry’s attorney, Andrew Altholz, has previously declined to comment on the case and did not immediately respond to request for comment on the video. 

Kiel, deputy director of community affairs for the state Justice Department, was placed on paid leave April 30, the date he was arrested, said David Beltran, a department spokesman.

The faux police department appears to have had a precursor in the Masonic Investigative Bureau, created by Hayes and Henry in 2010 to "investigate potential candidates for the Masonic Fraternal Order," according to filings with the secretary of state.

Both were also state-licensed security guards, records show.

The duo launched their own masonic lodge in Santa Clarita in 2011 and in 2013 added Kiel as the lodge's new chief financial officer, according to California Secretary of State records. 

In November 2014, a website that claimed to be the Masonic Fraternal Police Department's official site was registered online. In late January, the group mailed letters to police chiefs across California announcing Henry's role as the head of the police force.

Times staff writers Joseph Serna and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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