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L.A. Unified officer given five years in shooting hoax

Jeffrey Stenroos will serve his sentence in county jail rather than state prison, apparently due to overcrowding, and could be free in nine months, attorney says.

December 15, 2011|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times
  • Jeffrey Stenroos faces more than $350,000 in restitution and the school district is seeking $58,000 in medical costs.
Jeffrey Stenroos faces more than $350,000 in restitution and the school… (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times )

The former Los Angeles school police officer who staged his own shooting in a bizarre hoax was sentenced Wednesday to five years in jail, although he will probably spend only a fraction of that time behind bars if he meets the terms of his probation.

Convicted in September of planting false evidence, insurance fraud and other crimes, Jeffrey Stenroos, 31, appeared to receive little mercy from Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard H. Kirschner, who handed down the toughest sentence allowed under state guidelines.

But the judge told Stenroos that he will walk free after two years and avoid further custody if he completes 400 hours of community service, pays restitution and meets other terms of his probation, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

With the roughly six months he has been in jail and credits he will receive for good behavior, Stenroos could be out in nine months or less, his attorney, Tim Murphy, said.

Instead of sending Stenroos to a state-run prison as prosecutors wanted, Kirschner said Stenroos would remain in a Los Angeles County jail, apparently because of a recently enacted plan to ease overcrowding in state prisons.

A seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District police, Stenroos was called "a disgrace," by the district superintendent and chided by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The faked shooting Jan. 19 triggered a massive and costly search that brought a section of the San Fernando Valley to a nervous standstill.

Stenroos was found by a passerby in apparent pain on the sidewalk near El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills. He told officers that he had been following up on a report of a car burglar in the area when a man with a ponytail and bomber-style jacket shot him in the chest and fled. Stenroos' bulletproof vest had apparently saved him from serious injury.

Believing there was a gunman in the area, more than 550 officers combed the quiet neighborhoods near the school, conducting door-to-door searches and keeping an eight-mile area locked down for 10 hours.

Police were perplexed and suspicious of Stenroos' account almost from the outset. A spent shell casing found at the scene and bruising on Stenroos' chest seemed to support his story. But the officer gave investigators conflicting accounts of how the shooting unfolded.

During the trial, an LAPD detective testified that Stenroos admitted to faking the attack, confessing that he had accidentally shot himself while trying to clean his weapon — an explanation that remains doubtful. Prosecutors and police officials have alleged that Stenroos may have shot himself intentionally to gain attention. During the trial, prosecutors theorized that Stenroos may have propped his shirt and protective vest against a tree, fired a shot and then staged the shooting.

Murphy, Stenroos' attorney, rejected the idea that his client shot himself on purpose. The officer, he said, was sitting in his office at the school when the accidental shooting occurred. Realizing he was not seriously injured, Stenroos went about his patrol duties and was overcome by delayed pain from the bullet and fell to the sidewalk, Murphy said in an earlier interview after the trial.

City officials said they are seeking more than $350,000 in restitution from Stenroos to cover the costs of the search, and the school district is seeking $58,000 in medical costs. A hearing to determine how much Stenroos must pay is scheduled for Jan. 19.

Murphy said Stenroos is "anxious to do his time and move on with his life."

"He knows he has shamed himself. All he ever wanted to be was a cop," Murphy said. "It was his dream job and he screwed it up."

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