Five minors and an adult will face charges in connection with a string of incidents in which thieves pose as police officers, order drivers out of their cars then drive off in the victims’ vehicles, authorities said Friday.
The group is accused of using high-powered flashlights and electronic megaphones to order victims out of their cars and to lie face down on the pavement. After the drivers complied, thinking they were answering orders of Temecula police officers, the thieves would hop in the victims’ cars and drive away.
Investigators believe the group may have struck half a dozen times.
One incident occurred about 6:45 p.m. Monday at the intersection of Lakehouse Road and Harveston Drive in Temecula. Another was reported soon after, about 8:40 p.m. in the 3100 block of Sonoma Lane.
Investigators received a tip Friday that a video of one of the incidents had been posted online, and it led them to six suspects.
Three of the suspects are girls and two are boys, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Police would not identify them because they are minors.
Three of juvenile suspects were released to their parents and charges will be sought against them while they remain out of custody. The other two minors were booked into juvenile hall.
Temecula resident Mason Gonzalez, 18 years old and the only adult arrested, was booked into the Southwest Detention Center.
Investigators said the suspects were playing what they considered pranks and there were no attempts to harm any of the victims. Officials said they uncovered at least four similar cases of police impersonation allegedly carried out by the group that hadn’t been reported to the police.
Anyone with information in the case is urged to call Investigator James Dickey or Investigator Rachael Frost at the Temecula Police Department at 951-696-3000.
Police said whenever citizens are pulled over by police, they should follow these tips to be sure it’s a real law enforcement agent:
- Emergency lighting equipment is generally permanently affixed to police vehicles.
- Law enforcement officers are required by law to wear identifying insignia, such as a uniform, badge, or other clear markings identifying which agency they represent.
- If you are stopped by law enforcement, remain in your vehicle and wait for the officer to approach.
- Try to avoid loitering in dark, isolated areas during night hours.
- If you must remain in your parked vehicle for an extended period of time, try to find a lighted and populated area.
- Report any suspicious persons or suspicious activity to local law enforcement.