LOS ANGELES --
A Los Angeles school policeman who falsely claimed he was shot on patrol, prompting an intense manhunt, has been convicted of fraud and other offenses for making up the story.
In a non-jury trial, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard H. Kirschner on Monday convicted Officer Jeff Stenroos of felony counts of planting false evidence, insurance fraud, giving false evidence, workers compensation fraud and a misdemeanor count of making a false report of an emergency.
He could face more than five years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 14.
The purported shooting on Jan. 19 prompted a massive police search for a gunman and led to 9,000 students being held in their schools for hours.
In his closing arguments, the prosecutor contended that Jeff Stenroos fired a bullet into his protective vest, planted a shell casing, and repeatedly gave false accounts about what happened even from his hospital bed.
"He wanted the attention, he wanted the fame, he wanted the status ... he played the part of the traumatized officer," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Paul Nunez said. "He wanted to manipulate everyone."
Stenroos could face more than five years in prison if convicted of five felonies and a misdemeanor that include planting evidence, making false reports and insurance fraud.
Stenroos triggered a dragnet on Jan. 19 by claiming that a ponytailed car burglary suspect shot him in his bulletproof vest as he was patrolling in his car outside the El Camino Real High School campus. Authorities locked down nine schools in the area, confining 9,000 students to classrooms for hours while more than 550 police officers searched for the gunman.
More than a week later, Stenroos finally told investigators that he accidentally shot himself while cleaning a personal handgun in his office.
According to a transcript of his confession, Stenroos said: "I don't even know how it happened, it discharged."
Nunez noted that the Los Angeles Unified School District was left on the hook for some $57,000 in medical expenses and that Stenroos received full pay while on a medical stress leave.
"This was a cover-up, your honor, to stay off work," Nunez argued in the non-jury trial.
The prosecutor dismissed Stenroos' claim that he accidentally shot himself, saying among other things that there was no gunshot residue on his uniform and no gunshot was heard in the building. He implied that Stenroos shot his vest and then put it on and compared it to a Halloween costume.
"This was a staged, planned event," Nunez said, adding that Stenroos didn't confess until investigators broke down his claim of an armed assailant after hours of questioning.
The defense argued that there was no evidence that he planned a fraud and that he only lied on the spur of the moment to cover his embarrassing mistake.
It was only in the ambulance when "he decides to tell the lie that ruins his life and ruins his career," Stenroos' attorney Tim Murphy said.
Stenroos' other attorney, Dennis Elber, argued that his client was only guilty of one count - misdemeanor false reporting of an emergency - and that there was either no evidence to support the more serious charges or those laws did not apply in this case.
"Yes he put out a false public emergency and yes he is guilty of that," Elber said. "But it's got to stop where the law says it should stop."
Elber accused prosecutors of being overzealous in charging Stenroos "in a desire to please a supposed public outrage."
He said that witnesses have testified that Stenroos' injuries were consistent with a gunshot stopped by a bulletproof vest and all the care he received was "reasonable and necessary." He said that after accidentally shooting himself, Stenroos went on patrol upon hearing a report of an intruder. Stenroos did see the suspect but passed out when "the adrenaline, the pain ... takes over."
He called the staged shooting "ludicrous," arguing that Stenroos had asked to go back to work.