Three suspects have been arrested and authorities believe there may be many more at large after pretending to be police officers in Mid-Michigan.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said 27-year-old Emily Burrison of Burton and 29-year-old Jeffrey Jones of Flint and 23-year-old Auston Rose of Flint were arraigned Friday on charges of impersonating a peace officer and unlawful imprisonment.
Leyton said the impersonators were found wearing uniforms, badges and utility belts. Leyton said they even put together an incident log book with details on the date, time and address of emergencies they responded to.
"It makes it more difficult for the real police to do their jobs when you have these folks out there being imposters," Leyton said.
Genesee County Park Ranger Chief Kevin Shanlian said the fake cops were encountered in at least seven police jurisdictions in Genesee County, including the city of Flint.
"They were patrolling blighted areas in Flint and other parts of the area and detaining and arresting people," Shanlian said.
He said the suspects has been citing people for civil infractions including improper parking.
Investigators believes the scheme has been going on for over two years.
Shanlian said the suspects worked seven days a week as fake cops in full uniforms with badges, guns and handcuffs.
"But mostly they were doing things like arresting people that were in the park after hours even though the park wasn't closed," Shanlian said.
He said the group even had a chief and a deputy chief. They would respond to 911 calls and write police reports. Shanlian said they even interacted with real police at crime scenes, fooling them into thinking they were fellow officers.
One of the suspects admitted he may have encountered at least 100 victims, but Shanlian said it’s like much more.
"I'm not 100 percent sure what their motivation was. I know they were getting together in the beginning as a community watch group, but that obviously got out of hand," Shanlian said.
During stops, Shanlian said the phony police would tell victims they needed their IDs to check their information on a computer database.
He doesn't believe the group was trying to steal anything from the victims like money or their identities, but he does believe the fake cop ring could have more people involved still patrolling local neighborhoods.
"There is another group of about seven to 10 people that we're currently still investigating. There just isn't enough information yet to bring charges," Shanlian said.
Leyton said he is unwilling to let the suspects get by with just a slap on the wrist.
"I've taken a harsh view on it. I've charged them harshly and we will deal with them in the criminal justice system," Leyton said.
Prosecutors claim at least three people were detained and handcuffed by the suspects. Leyton said their reasoning for doing so is still unclear, but believes it was a misguided sense of justice.
"The only thing that we've been able to determine is that they thought they were doing good Samaritan work and helping the police and doing a good turn for the community. But you cannot impersonate a peace officer. That's a crime," Leyton said.
Juli Snyder was one of their victims.
"It's shocking to me that someone would do something like that," Snyder said. "I'm besides myself with what was going through their head."
She and a friend were taking pictures at Falling Stones Park in Flint in September when they were approached by a group of people identifying themselves as police officers. One of them was Emily Burrison, who is now in custody.
"I looked over and there was a group of people surrounding my car, taking pictures. And I'm like, 'what are you doing?' And they said, 'we're police,'" Snyder said.
She said they had a car with red and blue flashing lights and Burrison was dressed in a police officer's uniform.
"The woman that detained me had a vest. She had a gun belt and everything. She asked for my ID. She then handcuffed myself and my girlfriend. And I'm like, 'what is this about?' And she's like, 'you're trespassing on Genesee County state land,'" Snyder said.
Snyder said Burrison was carrying what appeared to be a real gun on her hip.
The group eventually let them go, but threatened they would be placed on a "criminal watch list."
Snyder said they kept saying they were with the Genesee County task Force.
Later that night, Snyder called the police. She said she was relieved when she heard from the detective on the case.
"When he called me the other day I was like thank God," Snyder said.
If you suspect you had an interaction with someone who wasn't a real police officer, you should contact police.
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