The Birmingham police chief began his news conference listing examples of heroes.
There was Sgt. Wytasha Carter, fatally shot on the job in January, and Officer Lucas Allums, wounded while responding to the same call. There were the officers honored midsummer at the department’s Heroism and Valor Ceremony, and Officer Cullen Stafford, critically wounded one month later when he was shot multiple times pursuing a robbery suspect.
“I wish I were here today to tell you about another great story of valor and heroism, one of honor,” Chief Patrick Smith said Thursday. “But unfortunately, I’m not.”
“Instead,” Smith continued, “I’m here to talk about stolen valor, stolen honor and an attempt to stage a shooting that has left this department polarized and hanging its head low in disbelief.”
On July 21, days after Stafford was shot, Officer Keith Buchanan put out a call for help about 1 a.m. after telling dispatch he was making a traffic stop. Buchanan had been patrolling a “rural and desolate” road along railroad tracks on the north side of Birmingham, Smith said. Then, in the background of the call, there was gunfire.
Dispatch did not know his location, so authorities were sent to look for him. They couldn’t reach him by radio. For 30 minutes, Smith said, Buchanan was silent.
Eventually, a private citizen noticed an abandoned police car along the railroad tracks and a bullet hole in the front window. Officers from the nearby Tarrant Police Department responded and found Buchanan lying on the ground, “appearing to be unconscious,” Smith said. Buchanan was holding his pistol and “moaning from his injuries,” the chief said.
Birmingham police and sheriff’s deputies blocked off roadways so Buchanan could be transported to a hospital trauma center, reported AL.com. Buchanan was not injured, authorities told the newspaper, but dozens of fellow officers visited him at the hospital.
In the two weeks since, authorities have exhaustively investigated the incident, Smith said. If there’s a shooter out there attacking police, the department wants to find them, he said.
“We want to make sure that we do everything that we can,” Smith said. “Our investigation has concluded that this entire event was a hoax.”
The radio call, the shots fired, the distressed call for help. The alleged injuries, lying by the tracks. The damage to the police car.
“All a hoax,” Smith said. “We found nothing to support the officer’s accounts of this incident.”
Last week, Buchanan was “relieved” of his duties as a Birmingham police officer. Smith took his weapon, badge and ID, he said. The department has consulted with the district attorney’s office and is seeking warrants for Buchanan’s arrest. They’re asking for the officer to be charged with criminal mischief, false reporting and discharging a weapon in city limits.
Buchanan has been placed on administrative leave with pay for 30 days, reported AL.com. His future will be determined by an internal affairs investigation.
“I can’t say it enough,” Smith said. “We will always be in relentless pursuit of our suspects, even when that suspect is one of our own.”
The police chief said Buchanan had presented “a false image of heroism” that was “tremendously disappointing” to other officers on the force.
“They have done everything I’ve asked of them,” Smith said. “They’ve gone above and beyond to rebuild bridges, to rebuild trust in this community and do everything they can. Quite frankly, it’s a slap in the face.”
The chief said the department intends to “review every single stitch” of Buchanan’s work since he joined the force in 2012.
“From a fraternal order of police standpoint, whenever an officer’s integrity is called into question, it sets the organization back and causes issues with us building public trust or keeping the public’s trust,” Lt. Richard Haluska, with the Birmingham Fraternal Order of Police, told TV station WBRC 6.