At least three officers have shot themselves and blamed imaginary suspects since September

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Today, political organizer Keegan Stephan pointed out on Twitter that at least three police officers whose shootings prompted manhunts or were blamed on Black Lives Matter activists actually shot themselves:

The tweet sparked a discussion on the social media platform. Some said that three is a relatively low number when compared to the amount of active police officers in the U.S., and that their actions shouldn't be seen as representative of most cops.

But taken together, the incidents are an upsetting look at how sentiment against the Black Lives Matter movement—which prompted the creation of counter movements like "Police Lives Matter"—can be fomented by false events. Here's a breakdown of each incident.


Bryan Johnson

On a Wednesday in early September, schools in Millis, Massachusetts, were temporarily shut down as police searched for a loose gunman. According to part-time Millis police officer Bryan Johnson, 24, a gunman had opened fire on his police car. WCBV described the incident at the time:

At a news conference Wednesday night, Millis police said a cruiser was traveling on Forest Road when an officer noticed a red or maroon pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction, and when the two vehicles met the driver opened fire on the police cruiser. The officer spun around, and in an attempt to avoid the gunfire and seek shelter he slammed into a tree and the cruiser burst into flames.

On Thursday, the Millis Police Department alleged that Johnson's account was false. According to a department statement posted to Facebook, "

An extensive search for ballistics evidence at and around the scene was also conducted. As a result of that search, the only ballistics evidence recovered was that belonging to the part-time officer. Additionally, several interviews were conducted with the officer. Upon conclusion of those interviews, and as a result of all other evidence, we have determined that the officer's story was fabricated, specifically that he fired shots at his own cruiser as part of a plan to concoct a story that he was fired upon.


Sergeant William Dwyer of the Millis Police Department said at the time, "I know I speak for the entire department and the police community when I say that we were shocked by what’s happened." Johnson lost his job, and was later charged with a number of crimes including, according to WCBV, "misleading a criminal investigation, communicating false information to emergency services, malicious destruction of property and unlawful discharge of a firearm."

He was released on bail on September 11.

Charles Joseph Gliniewicz

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When Fox Lake Police Department Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was found dead on September 1 of this year, dozens of police officers conducted a manhunt in the Illinois neighborhood for his suspected killers. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time:

Gliniewicz, 52, was on routine patrol around 8 a.m. when he radioed that he was responding to suspicious activity, according to the Lake County Sheriff's Office. He started a foot pursuit, but no one heard from him after that, authorities said. His colleagues responded and found him shot in a marshy area near U.S. Highway 12, a main road through town, authorities said. His gun was found near him, said Lake County Undersheriff Raymond Rose. Gliniewicz died at the scene, Rose said.


After weeks of fruitless searches, officials started questioning the circumstances of Gliniewicz's death. The Associated Press reported on September 21 that Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd refused to rule suicide out as a possible cause of death. Today, Illinois officially called the death a "carefully staged suicide."


NBC News reports that police linked the suicide to "extensive criminal acts," allegedly committed by Gliniewicz. From NBC:

Gliniewicz had been stealing and laundering money through the program, funneling "thousands of dollars" for personal purposes — including gym memberships, adult websites and loans to associates, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko told reporters.


Gliniewicz's death, especially, served as a rallying cry for pro-police groups. NBC Chicago reported that as the false manhunt was underway, Fox Lake residents held signs reading "Police Lives Matter” and "We Stand with Blue.” Mourner Gina Maria told the news outlet, "I think it’s time we rally around our law enforcement and stop the madness.”

David Houser

Late last month, police in England, Arkansas, conducted a manhunt for a suspect who had allegedly shot England Police Department Sgt. David Houser in the chest. THV11 reported at the time, that Houser was apparently shot during a traffic stop:

Investigators said when Houser approached the driver's door, the driver pointed a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun out of the window at him. Houser reportedly shoved the gun away from him, but was hit across the chest when the suspect fired the first round.


Houser's story was picked up by pro-police groups:


Eventually, Houser turned himself in. England Police Chief Nathan Cook said on Tuesday that "Sergeant Houser did admit to fabricating the shooting and that there never was a traffic stop and that he had staged the crime scene and that the gunshot wound to his uniform and his vest area was self-inflicted." Houser has been arrested over the fabricated report, but Cook said he intends to stand by his friend. "We're not planning on turning our back on David," said Cook, adding "David's a human being and our job is to assist people and be there for people."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that all three officers who were shot died.


Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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