HACIENDA HEIGHTS — Authorities sought three suspects in the armed takeover robbery of a couple in their Hacienda Heights home, in which one robber wore a sheriff's deputy uniform, complete with gun belt, badge and handcuffs.
"It doesn't happen real often but, when it does, it gets our attention," Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Brennan said of the impersonation and takeover robbery Monday morning that netted $4,000 in cash and $6,000 in jewelry.
The robbery began at 8:15 a.m. when a man wearing a deputy's uniform knocked at the home of Eli Gallegos, 35, and Olga Martinez, 33, on a cul-de-sac in the 3600 block of Holmes Circle, investigators said.
The impersonator said he had a search warrant, Deputy Gabe Ramirez said. When Gallegos opened the door, the man brandished a six-inch revolver and forced Gallegos and Martinez to lie on the floor, where he handcuffed them. The man then let in two other accomplices, who ransacked the home and fled with the valuables.
Although the man was wearing a "Class A" sheriff's deputy uniform--wool pants and long-sleeve shirt--investigators do not think that he was a sworn officer, because the badge was different from that worn by deputies, Brennan said.
A deputy's uniform can be purchased, piecemeal, at uniform stores, Sheriff's Detective J. Duran said. Sometimes the outfits are reported stolen from dry cleaners or deputies' homes or cars, he added. Investigators have also received reports of a full deputy's uniform, complete with an authentic badge, being sold at an Inland Empire swap meet, he said.
"Unfortunately, it's not against the law to purchase it," Duran said. "But it is against the law to impersonate an officer."
Brennan said incidents of deputy impersonation are rare, as are takeover robberies of homes in areas patrolled by Industry sheriff's deputies, such as the City of Industry, La Puente, Valinda and Bassett.
In the past, takeover robberies in those communities have involved Asian gang members, Brennan said. After learning which Asians in their community keep valuables at home, the gang members select their victims, the sergeant said.
Like other such victims, Gallegos and Martinez appear to have been selectively targeted instead of randomly attacked, Brennan said. Two years ago, a series of such robberies occurred within the Industry sheriff's station territory, but the perpetrators were arrested and are in state prison, he said.