Law enforcement officials were surprised, confused and just a little suspicious when the “Masonic Fraternal Police Department” began sending letters to several Southern California police chiefs in late January to introduce the its own new chief, David Henry.
For one thing, authorities had never heard of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department, which claims to be a 3,000-year-old law enforcement group descended from the Knights Templar.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department concluded after an investigation that the Masonic Fraternal Police Department is not a real police department, and three of its members — including Henry, the “chief” — were arrested on suspicion of impersonating police officers.
Henry, Tonette Hayes, and Brandon Kiel were arrested last week after the real police found “badges, identification cards, weapons, uniforms, police type vehicles and other law enforcement equipment” during a search of two locations linked to the organization, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Kiel is an aide to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, working as a deputy director of community affairs at the California Department of Justice, according to the Los Angeles Times. California DOJ Press Secretary Kristin Ford said in an emailed statement to The Washington Post that the department can’t comment on an “ongoing personnel matter or criminal investigation.” However, Ford confirmed that Kiel is on administrative leave.
Kiel apparently held a similar title for the Masonic Fraternal Police Department: “Chief deputy director,” which is how he identified himself to law-enforcement authorities when he called them earlier this year — following up on the letters — to request meetings with several local police chiefs. Capt. Roosevelt Johnson of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station met with Henry and grew suspicious of his group “when they could not answer basic questions about MFPD’s jurisdiction and overall department mission,” police said.
Henry, Hayes and Kiel were arrested Thursday on suspicion of perjury, impersonating a police officer and misuse of government information; they were released on bail that day, according to the county inmate records.
The Masonic Fraternal Police Department’s Web site — which names “Chief Henry” as its chief of police — claims jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico.
“Grand Masters around the various states are facing serious safety concerns for their Jurisdictions and their family members,” the Web site says. “When asked what is the difference between The Masonic Fraternal Police Department and other Police Departments the answer is simple for us. We were here first!”
The Web site adds: “We are born into this Organization our bloodlines go deeper then an application. This is more then a job it is an obligation.”
The group says that it “provides services” to Masonic Fraternal Organization Grand Masters and their jurisdictions, and that it is “located within the incorporated City of Santa Clarita, California.” Several pages on the Web site (including those titled “police reports,” “complaints” and “clandestine list”) appear to be password-protected.
In any case, the act was convincing enough to fool a local resident, Sherry Elgabalawy, who told CBS Los Angeles that “I always see them with their uniforms, so I thought they were part of [a] department.”
“I didn’t know it was a fake one,” she added.
Investigators from multiple police departments involved in the case say they suspect there may be more individuals involved with the group.
[This post has been updated.]
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