I never had to interact with Steven J. Nemec as a police officer, but I did have the next best thing, Daniel Perez (not his real name-Daniel never made the Mercury News).
The dispatcher sent me to a call that she couldn’t quite explain over the radio, so I called her on the phone. She told me that the previous year, one of the investigators had been looking into a case about a man wearing a gun to class. The professor at the time was concerned because he wasn’t sure if Daniel was a police officer or not. It seemed that Daniel was very non-committal when asked about it, but ultimately explained that he worked for the California Youth Authority. When the investigator started to look into him, the man stopped coming to class. But on this day, Daniel had returned and was waiting for something in the department office.
I went to the department office to contact him, unsure of what I was walking into. When I arrived, I met Daniel who was wearing a full Navy uniform. I explained that I was trying to investigate a weapons violation that may have occurred last year and asked if he was a peace officer of any kind. Adam said that he was a peace officer with the California Youth Authority, but that he had recently been activated by his Navy Reserve unit and was busy trying to get some unfinished business resolved prior to being shipped to the Middle East, including getting all his “withdrawal failures” removed . Even though it all appeared in order, something about him seemed off. With Steven Nemec rolling around in my head, Daniel’s behavior peaked my suspicion.
I confirmed that he didn’t have a firearm on him and he was unable to show me his agency ID because he had left it at home with his badge and firearm. Yeah, cops do that (sarcasm). I asked him if I could search his car to determine that he did not have a loaded gun in his car. He said that was okay. When we got out to his car, I saw that his 20 year old Nissan had registration that was expired by about a year. California law allows police officers to tow away vehicles from public property that have expired registration over six months. When I asked for the key, Daniel had changed his mind and rescinded his consent to search the car. That’s fine, I told him, but I was going to tow his car for expired registration and department policy required that I conduct an inventory search prior to towing.
I searched the car and found a local police agency ticket book, a large metropolitan police agency’s training video, a personal checkbook belonging to some random person, and a stack of letters to his creditors with certified mail receipts. No gun, but again, things seemed off. I asked about the items and his answers were vague and non-committal. (If I actually try to recreate the conversation, this will go on way too long). But so far, this was enough for me to investigate Theft of Lost Property, as he told me that he had found the items, but had made no effort to return them. I placed him in custody, towed the car, and drove him to the police station.
I placed him in the holding cell, but removed his handcuffs because he was being cooperative. I asked for his commanding officer’s name and unit number and called the local Air Force Base, where he said that his unit was waiting until they where shipped out. I called the Air Force and asked them for the unit that Daniel had identified. They had no idea what I was talking about. They asked me to go back and confirm the unit number. I went to the holding cell and noticed that all of his navy insignia were gone. I went in and found all the insignia in his pocket.
I said, “You aren’t even in the Navy, are you?”
He responded, “I’d like to be.”
He admitted that he was not in the Navy and that he was not a peace officer. He was actually a loss prevention officer at a local grocery store. I went and apologized to the Air Force. I called his real boss at the grocery store where Daniel said he had found the checkbook, which he collected as part of his job, for safekeeping. I explained what was going on to the boss and asked about the checkbook. The boss told me that the checkbook should have immediately been put in the safe at the grocery store. The boss asked if I had Daniel’s key ring. I said that I did. He asked if he had a specific key on the ring. I said that he did. The boss asked me to take and destroy the key and to please let Daniel know that he did not have to return to the grocery store, that his final check would be mailed to him.
Now, no one wanted to press charges for the lost property, so I had to release him as a detention only, but I kept those letters. It seemed that he was asking all his creditors to forgive his debts due to his activation by the US Navy Reserves, per the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act. I called the Postal Inspectors and spoke to them. The local US Attorney called me and requested copies of the evidence and pursued a case against Daniel for a mail fraud case. I do not know the final outcome.
During the course of this investigation, I learned that Daniel had been a county probation officer for less than a year, and had never worked for the California Youth Authority or any other law enforcement agency. He had never been in the Navy. A few days later, his fiancée called me to ask why I was harassing Daniel. I asked her what he did for a living and she told me that he was a cop, that he put on his badge and gun every morning and went to work. I told her the truth. Strangely, she believed me right away. A couple of days after that, I received a call from her father. He thanked me for letting his daughter know what was going on; he had been trying to tell her that something was wrong with Daniel, he just didn’t know what.
And my investigation could have been cut much shorter, had I just called one of our parking officers to come look at him in uniform. This parking officer had been an active US Marine. When he saw a photo of Daniel in uniform, later that first afternoon, he told me the following:
The uniform was for a Lt. Commander, but the hat was for a Chief Petty Officer. Also, he was wearing a Navy SEAL pin. Daniel was sort of round and doughy, in worse physical shape than me; there was no way on this blue planet that he had ever been a Navy SEAL. Something new every day.