Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Third case reported in Hernando of someone impersonating a police officer

Be careful.

That's what the Hernando County Sheriff's Office is telling motorists after receiving a third report in the past 10 days of a man impersonating a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop.

One of the cases resulted in an arrest. The other two are not believed to be related.

The latest incident happened about 5:30 p.m. Monday.

An unidentified man driving a white Crown Victoria pulled a woman over at Waterfall Drive and Bern Lane in Spring Hill. The vehicle had a single red flashing light on top with a wire running through the driver's door or window, a police-style spotlight and a yellow state tag. It didn't have any decals or police markings.

The man examined the driver's identification, then had her follow him to a parking lot at Kass Circle and Spring Hill Drive, more than a mile away.

There, he told her to perform a variety of field sobriety exercises.

He then let her go. She was not injured.

Hernando sheriff's spokeswoman Denise Moloney said the woman didn't have any idea what the man was doing.

"These people are weird," Moloney said.

She said drivers should never relocate after being pulled over by an officer — especially if they are being asked to do field sobriety tests.

The man was described as white, about 45 years old, with brown hair and a gray mustache. He was about 6 feet 1 inch and weighed about 220 pounds. He did not display a weapon or any law enforcement credentials. He was last seen in a green polo shirt with small gold or yellow writing in one of the upper corners and dark pants, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The first recent incident involving the impersonation of a law enforcement officer occurred Feb. 4. No arrest has been made.

At 9:45 p.m., a man driving a white Ford Crown Victoria with red and blue flashing lights on the dash and in the grill stopped a male motorist near Cortez Boulevard and McKethan Road in Ridge Manor. The Ford did not have any law enforcement markings or a cage to transport prisoners, according to the Sheriff's Office.

In that case, the man was wearing a black leather gun belt carrying what appeared to be a Glock handgun, the Sheriff's Office said. There were no law enforcement markings on his clothes, and he did not display a badge. He was wearing black cargo pants, a black jacket and a black baseball cap.

The man asked the motorist if he knew why he was being pulled over, the Sheriff's Office said. The motorist, apparently suspicious, drove away.

The suspect was described as white, about 5 feet 8 and roughly 200 pounds. He had dark hair, an unshaven face and appeared to be between 27 and 32 years old.

Moloney said the vehicle and suspect descriptions are different enough that detectives think there are two suspects.

Deputies are following up numerous leads and trying to figure out if the cases are related or just "copycat" incidents, she said.

The third incident involves a former Wisconsin sheriff's deputy who flashed his badge after getting angry at another motorist in a Taco Bell parking lot on Saturday.

Ryan Romano, 31, maneuvered his truck to block the other driver's path in the parking lot of the restaurant at 11140 Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill, authorities said.

He got out, identified himself as a law enforcement officer, showed a badge and ordered the occupants to get out, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Suspicious of Romano, they refused. When Romano threatened to arrest them, a man in the other vehicle said he was going to call 911. Romano got back in his truck and drove away.

He was arrested later that day and charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer.

The Sheriff's Office recommended that motorists who suspect they have been pulled over by someone impersonating an officer drive away at the speed limit and call 911. Motorists who do not have a cellphone should drive to a well-lighted, populated area before pulling over.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.

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