Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Roosevelt Johnson thought it was odd when three people — two of them dressed in police uniforms he didn't recognize — strolled into the Santa Clarita station in February.
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.
"It was an odd meeting," the captain recalled. "It just raised my suspicion level."
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.
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.
"He is smart, articulate and very, very ethical, which is why I find this hard to believe. He is a hard worker," she said. "He is a brilliant guy who had a great political career ahead of him. I can't imagine him doing anything to jeopardize that."
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.
Church members said they didn't talk to their neighbors but said they saw a few men come and go dressed in sharp suits. They drove a black Lincoln town car with no license plates.
"We thought they were a security company," said one church member.
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."
Times staff writers Michael Finnegan and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.