A fired Los Angeles School Police officer who faked his own shooting in January, triggering a 10-hour lockdown of San Fernando Valley schools and neighborhoods, was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday - but is likely to serve no more than nine months.
Jeffery Stenroos broke down at his sentencing hearing in Van Nuys Superior Court, saying he was sorry for his actions.
"Many have suffered because of my lack of honesty," Stenroos said, crying as he read from a letter he had written to the judge. "I disgraced the badge and the people who proudly wear it. I am truly sorry."
But his tears did not faze Judge Richard Kirschner, who said Stenroos deliberately staged the shooting that brought hundreds of officers down on Woodland Hills to hunt for a nonexistent suspect.
"Mr. Stenroos is an accomplished actor, consummate liar, and embellishes lies with tears and sobs," Kirschner said. "His violation of trust was massive and complete."
Kirschner sentenced Stenroos, 31, to the maximum of five years in Los Angeles County jail instead of state prison due to the state realignment plan aimed at easing prison overcrowding. The judge said Stenroos would have to serve only two years in jail, with the remaining three on supervised release if he meets the terms of his probation.
With credit for time served and overcrowding at the jails, Stenroos likely will serve only nine more months, and could be out even sooner for good behavior, according to attorneys involved in the case.
"I think basically the sentence was reasonable considering what the options were," said defense attorney Tim Murphy. "And it could have been a lot worse."
Stenroos, of Santa Clarita, also will have to complete 400 hours of community service and pay restitution, which will be determined at a hearing on Jan. 19 - exactly one year after the incident.
On that day early this year, a massive law enforcement response was triggered when Stenroos reported that he had been shot in the chest by a car theft suspect near El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills. The officer, who then had seven years on the force, described the suspect as a white man in his 40s with gray hair in a ponytail.
Police locked down nine schools and set up a perimeter enclosing an estimated 25,000 people for about 10 hours.
His story, however, soon unraveled under further scrutiny and he was arrested for filing a false report nine days after the incident.
The lockdowns and dragnet - involving more than 550 police officers, FBI agents, K9 units and two helicopters - cost about $361,000, said Deputy District Attorney Paul Nunez. The Los Angeles Unified School District also is seeking $58,000 in medical costs.
Murphy expressed doubt that Stenroos would ever be able to pay those sums.
"It'll be very difficult for Jeff to pay that back now because he's a convicted felon," Murphy said.
Following a nonjury trial in September, Stenroos was convicted of insurance fraud, workers' compensation fraud, preparing false documentary evidence, planting false evidence and one misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an emergency.
"I betrayed my oath and responsibility," Stenroos said. "I came to understand that it was based on a need to have the community ... believe that I was the perfect officer."
Nunez and Kirschner appeared unmoved by Stenroos' tears, and both called the ex-cop a liar.
His actions caused fear and panic in the community, leading to thousands of children being locked inside classrooms without food or bathroom breaks, and stained the reputation of law enforcement, Nunez said.
"Mr. Stenroos has never admitted truth," Nunez said. "For over a week he was telling detectives that (that) gunman shooting him was the complete truth."
Being a cop was a dream job for Stenroos, who received favorable work reviews from colleagues, Murphy said.
"In a brief moment of insanity, he threw it all away," Murphy said. "And the insanity didn't stop for 10 days."
The defense said Stenroos had accidentally discharged the gun while cleaning it and shot himself in the chest, and was on his way to get a new shirt when he ran into a ponytailed man near the school.
Stenroos wove a "fabric of lies," going so far as to write a "dying declaration" in the dust on a nearby car that said "MW" - policespeak for "male white" - and an arrow pointing in the direction that the nonexistent suspect supposedly ran, Kirschner said.
"He was motivated by a desire to be treated as a hero, to receive special attention, to get 15 minutes of fame ... and to collect insurance money," Kirschner said.
"This case is a tragedy," Kirschner told Stenroos. "When you say you have failed them, you have failed them."