PORTERVILLE – Two young men thought they were in a training program to become junior deputies with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. After three months of instruction, they discovered it was all a fraud.
The two men, both 20 and unidentified, discovered they were victims of a scam after one of them went to the sheriff’s department’s substation in Porterville on Aug. 16 to request information on continuing the junior deputy training he’d been a part of for the past three months.
The man explained to the sheriff’s staff that he was a Tulare County junior deputy. Unaware of any junior deputy program, the staff began asking questions and an investigation by sheriff’s deputies ensued.
For the past few months, the two men had been provided training by two individuals, a male and a female both dressed in Tulare County Sheriff’s Office uniforms.
“The victims described the training they received as how to conduct traffic stops, handcuffing techniques, pedestrian contacts, hand-to-hand combat, baton weapon training and various other law enforcement skills,” said Sgt. Chris Douglass of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.
During the supposed training program, which was being held in at an apartment in the Porterville area, the two victims were provided with uniforms as well as a fraudulent handbook entitled “TSCO Junior Deputy Training Program.”
Sheriff’s deputies conducted a search warrant at the apartment in question, which belonged to 19-year-old Brandon Birchfield, and discovered multiple sheriff’s deputy uniforms, a complete duty belt with a BB gun in the holster, and the computer used to make the fake handbooks.
Birchfield was arrested and booked at the main jail. Birchfield had been part of the Sheriff’s Office Explorer program for people ages 14 through 21. He had been terminated from the program in 2006 for possessing sheriff’s equipment not issued to him.
Another suspect in the case, 24-year-old Hannah Husted from Strathmore, had also been part of the Explorer program in the past. She left the program when she turned 21 and exceeded the age limit, Douglass said. Husted was not placed under arrest, but her case was submitted to the district attorney’s office for review.
“Neither (of the suspects) worked for the sheriff’s office, nor should they have been in possession of the uniforms,” Douglass said.