Man charged with impersonating police officer on I-91

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-01-2023 7:38 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — If you’re a rent-a-cop and decide to pretend to be a real one, here’s a pro tip: Try not to pull over drivers who happen to work for a police department.

A 24-year-old Norwich man who works for a Vermont private security firm was arrested and charged on a single misdemeanor count of impersonating a public officer after he allegedly activated his SUV’s emergency lights to pull over a driver on Interstate 91 in Hartford in August, according to court documents.

The driver of the vehicle he pulled over? None other than a dispatcher with the Lebanon Police Department.

The man charged in the case pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Oct. 17 in Windsor County Superior Court. His next court date is Dec. 20. The suspect has no prior criminal record, according to court records, but his employer told investigators he had received a job warning after complaints he had been acting “outside the scope of their expectations.” Because the lone charge in the case is a misdemeanor, the Valley News is not identifying the suspect.

The alleged incident occurred when the Lebanon dispatcher was traveling along I-91 through Hartford on the late afternoon of Aug. 12 and noticed an unmarked black police-style SUV approaching from behind activate its interior emergency light bar, according to the police affidavit in support of the charges.

When the dispatcher pulled over, a man dressed in a security uniform exited the SUV and approached the dispatcher at the driver-side window.

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The SUV driver told the dispatcher there was “no real reason for the stop, but I noticed your plate. Mine is similar,” the affidavit relates.

The dispatcher told police the person who pulled him over appeared to be trying to obscure his badge and insignia on his vest but claimed he worked for a “federal agency in Burlington.”

After the roadside encounter, the dispatcher called a counterpart in Vermont to report that he had just been pulled over by someone pretending to be a law enforcement officer.

Vermont State Police troopers located the SUV, a Ford Explorer Interceptor, shortly afterward on Route 4 in Woodstock and interviewed the driver, who was wearing a black uniform, a black vest with a name tag stitched into it and a black utility belt with a radio, handcuffs and “non-lethal gun with holster” attached.

The SUV driver explained to police that he pulled over the vehicle because “he wanted to speak with (the driver) about having similar VT plates as his” and “stated many times” that “he was sorry for the incident but appeared to not totally grasp what he did was criminal,” the affidavit says.

Police noted that SUV driver’s “reasoning was odd” but nonetheless “did line up” with the account of the alleged incident provided by the dispatcher.

When investigators contacted the SUV driver’s security firm employer, the driver’s supervisor informed police that they “had a discussion with (the employee) about several interactions that occurred at work that were outside the scope of their expectations.” Those conversations with the employee included one following the purchase of the Ford Interceptor when the supervisor “had learned through others at work that (the employee) was portraying himself as a federal officer/worker.”

The supervisor mentioned to police that there had been an earlier incident where the employee was cited for activating his vehicle’s emergency lights to drive through a red light in South Burlington without possessing the required permit.

The security guard may have on some level he was acting inappropriately, according the affidavit.

When the Lebanon dispatcher told the man who pulled him over that he was acting unlawfully by activating his vehicle’s emergency lights to pull him over on the highway, the man responded: “I will rethink my actions and act different in the future.”

Attorneys for both the state and the defendant did not respond to messages for comment on Tuesday. The security firm where the defendant is employed also did not respond to a message for comment.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.