Some district attorneys in Colorado are speaking out about accounts of police impersonators allegedly stopping people outside of their homes and questioning them under the auspices of the state’s stay-at-home order.
“A male individual pulled a woman over and said he was checking her papers to see if she actually had paperwork that authorized essential travel,” said Michael Dougherty, the Boulder County District Attorney, of an incident that occurred on the morning of April 6 in Longmont. “She actually did, by chance, because she’s a nurse and her employer provided her with paperwork.”
Under the stay-at-home order, essential activities are exempt, which includes medical professionals traveling to and from work. There is no requirement that people carry papers with them to corroborate their reason for leaving home. The nurse called 9-1-1 “because she thought the whole thing was strange,” said Dougherty.
At minimum, the act of pulling someone over is a felony that results in up to 18 months of incarceration. An impersonator could commit other crimes during the interaction that would merit additional charges.
On Wednesday, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler put out a statement detailing a false report that an impersonator stopped a woman in Aurora on March 25 at night to ask about her reasons for not being at home. The woman subsequently retracted the story, saying she had made it up to convince her employer of a need to issue papers along the lines of what the nurse in Longmont had.
“You do NOT need to provide any paperwork or documentation that your travel is essential,” the office advised. “There are no checkpoints because of COVID-19.” Brauchler said in a statement that neither false reports to law enforcement nor impersonating police will be tolerated, although some incidents have turned out to be misunderstandings.
His office added that on Monday, it charged a man with pulling someone over and impersonating a police officer in Douglas County, but that there was no apparent connection with the stay-at-home directive.
Dougherty said that law enforcement primarily wants to educate and encourage people to comply with the stay-at-home order, even though violating it is a misdemeanor offense.
“The first response is not going to be arrest and prosecution,” he said. Revoking a business’s license for violating the order is a last resort. He added that he would “strongly consider” prosecution for repeated and flagrant violations. Impersonators, on the other hand, are preying upon people during a crisis, which to Dougherty is “an extremely serious and egregious violation.”
Longmont police are looking for a thin white male who is six feet tall, with dark brown hair and a goatee. He was driving a white, full-size Ford Bronco with a rotating dome light. The department advised that if an officer refuses a request to provide identification, the person being pulled over should call 9-1-1.