A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy falsely claimed last week he was shot by a sniper at the Lancaster sheriff’s station. He’ll now be the subject of a criminal investigation, officials said late Saturday.
“We are all appalled and disappointed. We took the deputy at his word at first,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in an interview Sunday. “We intend to hold the individual responsible for breaking the law and most importantly for betraying the community.”
“We know the what and how,” the sheriff added. “We don’t know the why.”
The dramatic twist in the case came after days of fruitless searches for a gunman who authorities believed had shot the deputy. The incident prompted the manhunt and massive police response, with much of the focus on an apartment building next to the station.
“The reported sniper assault was fabricated by our deputy,” Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon said at an unusual 11 p.m. news conference at the department’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters.
On Sunday morning, a message was posted on the Facebook page of the Lancaster sheriff’s station about the admission by Deputy Angel Reinosa:
“Angry. Embarrassed. Furious. Unbelievable. Ashamed. These are some of the words circulating our station’s hallways since last night as our deputies try to wrap their minds around last night’s press conference surrounding the incident that occurred in our parking lot on Wednesday, August 21, 2019.”
Reinosa, 21, claimed he was struck in the chest about 2:50 p.m. Wednesday as he walked to his car in the employee parking lot at the Lancaster station, authorities said. At the time, investigators believed Reinosa’s bulletproof vest had saved his life but that a bullet had grazed his shoulder.
But much of the deputy’s statement “was self-serving and didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener. No bullets were recovered from the scene.
“There were many things that didn’t add up,” Wegener said.
Though Reinosa was initially taken to a hospital for treatment, detectives said they later saw “no visible injuries,” Wegener said.
Investigators and colleagues became suspicious of Reinosa’s story on the day of the shooting. His radio call about the incident was too calm even for a veteran, a hole in his shirt too big for the minor wound he claimed to have suffered, several sheriff’s officials told the L.A. Times on Sunday.
Deputies and the sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau halted their search for the suspected gunman, officials said, and homicide detectives, assisted by forensic experts, turned their attention to Reinosa. By 9:30 p.m. that day, Reinosa was already under heavy suspicion.
Reinosa eventually admitted to investigators that “he was not shot as previously claimed,” Wegener said. The deputy said he used a knife to cut two holes in his shirt.
But Reinosa failed to provide an explanation for his motive for fabricating the story, Wegener said.
Reinosa had been with the Sheriff’s Department for a year and joined the Lancaster station in May for patrol training.
On Wednesday, the deputy made a radio call from the helipad at the sheriff’s station’s parking lot and reported that two shots had been fired at him from a nearby apartment building, authorities said. Reinosa then went back to the station for the purpose of receiving medical help.
The incident drew a massive police presence, with a SWAT team and armored vehicles called to the area. Deputies blocked off the apartment building, believing the shooter to be trapped inside.
Sheriff’s officials spent hours overnight searching the apartment building.
The case will be turned over to the Los Angeles County district attorney, and Reinosa will probably face charges for filing a false report about a crime, Wegener said.
The message posted Sunday on the sheriff’s website continued:
“Our deputies responded to a cry for help and did exactly what they have been trained to do to protect our civilian staff, residents and community. Our community and other first responder partners worked side by side with us to move quickly, effectively and efficiently. There is no shame in that.
“We are saddened by the outcome of the investigation, but are so grateful to our community for their cooperation on Wednesday and your ongoing support everyday. The actions of one individual are not indicative of who Lancaster Sheriff’s Station Deputies are.”
Asked for his reaction Sunday to news of the hoax, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said, “Of course we’re all embarrassed. There’s no doubt about that. At the same time, I’m grateful we don’t have a sniper running around. And I’m really proud of how the Sheriff’s Department handled it. There was no attempt to cover it up.”
Parris said he received a phone call from a sheriff’s official around 8:30 or 9 p.m. Saturday informing him that investigators had determined the shooting was a hoax.
Parris said it was his understanding the hoax had been discovered shortly before the call and that sheriff’s officials arranged their 11 p.m. news conference as quickly as they could.
Parris said he had been told by sheriff’s officials that Reinosa had been struggling in his first year in the field — a probationary training period that all deputies must complete before becoming full-fledged deputies.
“He was not advancing through the training program at an adequate pace,” Parris said. “There had been a lot of attention on him.”
Parris declined to elaborate further on Reinosa’s performance but said the deputy was scheduled to be transferred from the Lancaster station and speculated that he had been unhappy about the pending move.
Parris said he was “unrepentant” about comments he made in the immediate aftermath of the apparent shooting about the apartment building from which Reinosa claimed the sniper had shot.
The building, which overlooks the sheriff’s station parking lot and is used by a nonprofit organization to house people with mental illness, is a safety hazard, he said. He said he expected the building’s landlord would “work with us” either to install bulletproof windows that could not open or to erect a barrier blocking the view of the station.