A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy "completely fabricated" a claim that he was shot by a sniper Wednesday while unloading a patrol car in the parking lot of the Lancaster Sheriff's station, department officials said Saturday.
Deputy Angel Reinosa, 21, who admitted in a follow-up interview to detectives that he made up the whole story, will be relieved of his duties and face a criminal investigation, Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon told reporters at a hastily convened press conference Saturday night.
Reinosa copped to cutting his own shirt with a knife to make it look like he had been shot.
"There was no sniper, no shots fired, and no gunshot injury sustained to his shoulder ― completely fabricated," LA County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau Captain Kent Wegener said.
Reinosa failed to provide any motive for his attack, Wegener said, calling the act "self-serving."
"As Sheriff, I am responsible for my deputies and am embarrassed & incredibly disappointed at what this Deputy did," Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a statement Sunday. "I apologize to our community and our elected officials who rallied in our support."
Investigators grew suspicious of the story as soon as Reinosa arrived at an emergency room and it was apparent he had no visible injuries, despite holes in his uniform shirt, several law enforcement sources told NBCLA.
Several law enforcement sources told NBC LA earlier this week that the Reinosa's clothing and injury were inconsistent with his story that he’d been struck in the shoulder with a bullet and that a second bullet whizzed past him, the sources said.
“This is not adding up,” said one source familiar with the investigation and the painstaking, room-by-room search of an adjacent 4-story apartment building from which the trainee deputy claimed the shots were fired from an open window.
Dozens of deputies spent hours searching for the reported attacker, repeatedly described by Lancaster mayor R. Rex Parris as a “sniper,” but no one was found, the Sheriff’s Department confirmed in a Twitter message early Thursday.
Two people briefly detained during the search for being “uncooperative” were released and had nothing to do with the incident, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Officials said Reinosa reported he’d been shot while standing in the station parking lot at 2:48 p.m.
“I’m taking shots from the north of the Lancaster helipad,” Reinosa said, according to a recording of the dispatch radio traffic obtained by NBC4.
“I think I’m hit in the right shoulder, it might have gone through...my shirt’s ripped alright." “I think it’s from the apartment windows. There’s multiple windows open," Reinosa broadcast seconds later, seeming to convey a sniper situation.
"Deputies at the location evacuated him,” Lancaster station Capt. Todd Weber told reporters of Reinosa’s rescue from the parking lot. “He is doing great, has a minor wound, is in high spirits, and should make a full recovery. Very lucky.”
The dramatic turn Saturday recalls the January 19, 2011, case of former Los Angeles school police officer Jeffrey Stenroos, who staged his own shooting that triggered a massive and expensive manhunt for a fictitious car burglar that for hours locked down a large area of the West San Fernando Valley.
That story fell apart when police said Stenroos gave investigators conflicting accounts of how the shooting had unfolded and dodged investigators who sought to ask to ask him follow-up questions before eventually confessing.
The officer eventually paid the city over $300,000 in restitution.