Police Impersonations in Florida

November 22, 2023 Criminal Defense

Pretending to be a police officer not only undermines the trust between civilians and actual law enforcement officers, but also carries severe legal penalties.

The State of Florida has established strict laws and regulations to protect the integrity of police agencies while ensuring the trust of its citizens. This blog post will delve into several examples of police impersonation cases in Florida. We will also provide insight into the penalties for impersonating an officer.

Example Cases

  • January 2021Sarasota police officers responded to a call about a police officer in distress around 1:00 AM. When the responding officers arrived, they did not find any other officers. They conducted a search of the area, which led them to two women who had attempted to pull over another vehicle while pretending to be police officers.

The local report stated that Jymeika McDowell, 28, and Ryshawnna Poole, 39, were found outside of their car equipped with flashing lights and a siren. Investigators discovered that the two women had filmed a livestream of a fake traffic stop earlier that night.

The livestream video displayed the two suspects saying, “put your [expletive] hands up, driver,” and “I need everyone to exit the [expletive] car,” and “anybody move and I will shoot.”

The passengers in the pulled over vehicle had no idea who McDowell or Poole were, and because of the two women keeping them there without any authority, they were arrested and charged with impersonating a police officer and false imprisonment.

“This wasn’t Sarasota police officers pulling over a car. These were people who were pretending to be law enforcement officers and putting fear into innocent victims and residents of our community,” said Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. “If you ever suspect if someone is pulling you over that you feel isn’t a law enforcement officer, call 911 to validate the traffic stop.”

  • October 2023A Miami-Dade Trooper pulled over a Dodge Charger that had a blue and white light bar and emergency siren attached to it. The local report indicated that Trooper Alexander Monte De Oca Viera pulled over Iulia Pugachev, 28, as she was driving northbound on State Road 826.

When questioned about her vehicle’s appearance, Pugachev said she had a mechanic add the light bar system and a body shop complete the rest of the job to make it look like a Florida Highway Patrol vehicle.

“It’s a 1st-degree misdemeanor for a vehicle to be painted with the same color scheme prescribed for FHP vehicles,” wrote Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Carlos Vanegas.

Pugachev’s reason for changing her car’s appearance was provided in Monte De Oca Viera’s notes: “Mrs. Pugachev stated she requested the wrap business next to the body shop to wrap the vehicle in black and tan because she had previously seen FHP’s marked patrol units and fell in love with the color scheme.”

After further inspection, the Miami Regional Communications Center found that the car was registered in Louisiana and did not have a registered license plate. Pugachev was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle without registration, misusing a dealer license plate, and engaging in the impersonation of a Florida Highway Patrol marked unit.

Penalties for False Impersonation

There are varying charges and penalties a person can face for impersonating an officer. The exact punishment will be determined based on the type of impersonation that took place. Charges can range from a misdemeanor to a felony offense.

Florida Statute Section 316.2397(2) states that it is “expressly prohibited for any vehicle or equipment, except police vehicles, to show or display blue lights.” The law provides that a person may not drive, move, or cause to be moved any vehicle or equipment on the highway that displays a red, red and white, or blue light that is visible from directly in front of the vehicle.

Under Florida Statute Section 843.081, it is unlawful for a person to use a flashing or rotating flashing blue light in any nongovernmental car or vessel unless that person is a law enforcement officer employed by the federal, state, county, or civil law enforcement agency.

A person who violates the above sections by displaying lights similar to an official police vehicle or other designated department’s lights can face a first-degree misdemeanor. Getting convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor carries up to:

  • Up to a $1,000 fine; and
  • Up to one year in jail.

Florida Statute Section 817.568 provides the criminal use of personal identification information, or identity fraud. Codified under Section(10), any person who commits an offense for the purpose of obtaining or using personal information by impersonating a law enforcement officer shall have the offense reclassified to the next highest level. For example, a first-degree misdemeanor would be reclassified to a third-degree felony.

Florida Statute Section 843.08 describes the law against false impersonation. Any person who falsely assumes or pretends to be a sheriff, officer with the Florida Highway Patrol, or any personnel or representative with the Department of Law Enforcement, and who then takes it upon themselves to act as such or require another person to assist in their false duty of an officer faces a third-degree felony. Getting convicted of a third-degree felony carries up to:

  • Up to a $5,000 fine; and
  • Up to five years in prison.

If the defendant falsely impersonated a police officer while in the commission of a felony offense, then the charge is considered a second-degree felony. Getting convicted of a second-degree felony carries up to:

  • Up to a $10,000 fine; and
  • Up to 15 years in prison.

If the defendant falsely impersonated a police officer while in the commission of a felony offense and the commission of such offense resulted in the personal injury or death of another person, then the charge is considered a first-degree felony. Getting convicted of a first-degree felony carries up to:

  • Up to a $10,000 fine; and
  • Up to 30 years in prison.

Florida Statute Section 787.02 defines “false imprisonment” as when a person forcibly, by threat, or by secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against their will. A person accused of impersonating a police officer and then commits false imprisonment (such as with the first example case above), they can face a third-degree felony. The charge is considered a first-degree felony if the victim was under 13 and experienced any type of abuse while imprisoned.

To find out more about police impersonation examples in Florida, read our blog post here.

Criminal Defense Firm in Tallahassee, FL

If you’ve recently been accused of impersonating a law enforcement officer, you should consider hiring a top-quality criminal defense attorney to help with your case. Imitation is not a form of flattery when it comes to the police, and pretending to act as a law enforcement officer can get you in serious trouble. If you are convicted of impersonating a cop or other protected role, you can face steep fines and jail time.

Contact the defense team at Pumphrey Law Firm. Our attorneys will review your case details during a free consultation when you call us at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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