A New Hope man claiming to be an undercover officer landed in the Marshall County Jail last week.
According to Guntersville Police Lt. John East, a woman driving southbound on U.S. 431 near Guntersville saw a vehicle pull up behind her flashing lights as if signaling her to pull over on Oct. 7.
Unsure if the vehicle was in fact an unmarked police vehicle, the woman called 911 asking for verification while she attempted to drive to the Guntersville Police Department and downtown area.
East said she pulled over just past the police department.
The driver of the alleged police vehicle was later identified as Leonard Clark, 33, of New Hope.
He parked behind the victim and approached her vehicle, claiming to be an undercover U.S. Marshal. He reached into her vehicle and attempted to pull out her car keys, East said.
“It was very alarming to her and something no officer would attempt to do under normal circumstances,” East said.
“Thankfully our officers were able to get there pretty quickly.
“Mr. Clark claimed to be undercover, saying that was why he didn’t have any identification on him. He also did not know his supervisor’s name. He didn’t know things any real law enforcement agent would routinely know.”
Clark was arrested and charged with impersonating a peace officer. He was booked into the Marshall County Jail and later released after posting a $20,000 bond.
Impersonating a police officer is a Class C felony, according to the Alabama Criminal Code.
If convicted, Clark could face between 1 and 10 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
East said he understands the victim’s hesitancy to pull over, as Clark had replaced his hazard lights with white LED bulbs. She did the right thing, he said, by calling 911 to verify the legitimacy of the vehicle and in trying to get to a well-lit, public area.
“I completely understand what she was thinking,” East said. “I have driven lots of vehicles in my career that may not have looked like a traditional police car and were unmarked.
“Certainly, if you are unsure, call the police. They should be able to tell you if you are in front of a police vehicle or not.”
East said the incident, while not common, is not unheard of. He said Guntersville officers routinely share “BOLO” or be on the lookout notices with other departments in cases like this in case there are additional victims out there.
“It’s been a while since we have had a case like this,” he said. “Typically, they will try to run blue lights. It is an issue that concerns us and we take incidents like this very seriously.”