The group of people accused of responding to crime scenes and making arrests while pretending to be police officers for years was just trying to make the community a better place, according to an attorney.
Attorney Matthew L. Norwood said his client Jeffrey Lee Jones wanted to do something positive but fell in with the wrong crowd.
“It seemed like they had the good intentions of making Genesee County a better place,” Norwood said. “I don’t think anyone had any evil intent.”
Jones, 29, along with Emily Nicole Burrison, 27, of Burton, were in the courtroom of Genesee District Judge David Goggins on Friday, June 1, and had their bond changed, Norwood said.
The pair’s bond was amended to $400,000 and they must turn in any uniforms, handcuffs, lightbars or other equipment that may have been previously used, Norwood said.
“Which is fine,” Norwood said. “My client didn’t have any light bars on his car.”
Jones and Burrison were arraigned Thursday, May 31, and a personal recognizance bond was originally set.
Each is charged with multiple felonies and is accused of conducting false arrests of individuals they accused of committing crimes and even tricking real emergency responders at crime scenes.
The charges include three counts of unlawful imprisonment and one count of impersonating a peace officer to commit a crime.
The pair is accused of being longing to a group of people calling itself the Genesee County Fire and EMS Media-Genesee County Task Force Blight Agency, which Kevin Shanlian, chief of the Genesee County Parks ranger division, claims has been acting as police at locations that include county parks, house fires, vehicle crashes and other crime scenes.
“He was someone who went around his neighborhood and picked up garbage and mowed vacant lots. He wanted to help improve the community,” Norwood said of Jones. “He found like-minded people. I think that some of the people took things too far.”
Burrison’s attorney said the case is at the very beginning stages.
“There are allegations that have been made against my client and I am confident that she will be vindicated when the full story comes out,” said attorney Armene Kaye.
A third Flint man was charged in connection with the case and he was taken into custody while working at Cedar Point in Ohio. Investigators said he is being held at the Erie County Jail while awaiting extradition to Genesee County for arraignment on the charges.
Court records indicate there are five other co-defendants in the case, however, charges have not yet been filed against them.
“We believe that on some occasions, they were the first to show up on crime scenes,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton previously said. “On some occasions, the real police would ask them to perform tasks at the scene, not realizing they were imposters.”
An investigation into the group was launched after Shanlian received a call about a complaint of rude rangers at Stepping Stone Falls and Picnic area in Genesee on Sept. 21, 2017.
He investigated the incident because the victims thought they were being mistreated by park rangers, but Shanlian soon learned the victims were actually dealing with the fake cops.
Ultimately, the investigation led to Leyton filing criminal charges.
The three individuals who are charged dressed like police officers and approached two people at Stepping Stone Falls and Picnic area, Leyton said.
The charged individuals said the people were trespassing, the park was closed and they were under arrest despite the fact the park was actually open, according to Leyton.
Both victims were handcuffed and the fake police demanded their driver’s licenses. Information from the licenses was entered into a laptop inside the suspects’ vehicle, which Leyton said had a police light bar on top of it.
The victims were told they were being placed on a criminal watch list database, Leyton said, before getting the handcuffs taken off and receiving their licenses back.
“We believe they’ve done this to other people,” Leyton previously said. “We’re asking people to come forward if, in fact, they believe they’ve been victimized by people they don’t believe are real police officers.”
Norwood said he doesn’t believe his client put anyone into handcuffs.
Leyton said the group kept a log and were responding to 911 calls.
Shanlian said there was a core group of about 10 people who were impersonating police since October 2015.
“I believe there’s probably hundreds of victims who were actually detained and didn’t have good experiences with these folks,” Shanlian previously said.
Shanlian said those who may have interacted with people impersonating police should call his office at 810-249-3830.
Jones’s next court date is a probable cause conference on June 28.