By Inga Miller
The Modesto Bee
MANTECA — Police are investigating whether a suspected auto thief they say was caught wearing a police badge used it to pass as an officer.
Ronnie Salvador Ledesma, 32, of Auburn was arrested about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday after returning with a suspected accomplice to a stolen car parked at the Comfort Inn in the 1900 block of East Yosemite Avenue, said Manteca police spokesman Rex Osborn.
He said Ledesma was wearing the badge on his belt.
Osborn said police don't know if Ledesma passed himself off as an officer.
"We don't have any proof that he did," Osborn said. "We don't know why he had it, and we don't know if we ever will."
Ledesma asked for an attorney and refused to answer questions after a detective noticed the badge, Osborn said. Investigators Wednesday traced the number on it to one reported stolen Jan. 19 from a Stockton Police Department homicide detective's vehicle.
During a search Tuesday morning, police discovered what they suspect are stolen credit cards, a fraudulent driver's license and a passport.
Osborn said Ledesma was arrested on charges of false impersonation of a police officer, auto theft, possession of a stolen vehicle, unauthorized use of personal information, having a fraudulent driver's license, fraudulent use of an access card, obstructing arrest and three outstanding warrants for burglary and domestic violence.
The woman with him, Tawyny Garrison, 24, whose address was unknown, was arrested on suspicion of auto theft, possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of stolen property, and theft with a prior. She also had warrants for auto theft and possession of stolen property.
Stockton police officer Pete Smith said the detective who lost the badge followed department procedures, and "we're just glad it's off the street and out of the hands of this nefarious person."
Osborn wouldn't speculate on what the badge could have been used for, but there are "a whole bunch of things if the intent is to use it illegally, and we don't know what his intent was."
In March, Manteca resident John D. Cohen was indicted on charges of impersonating a federal officer after authorities say he walked into a federal courthouse in Sacramento, accompanied by his 4-year-old daughter, and showed a fake Drug Enforcement Administration badge. A warrant in the case stated that he told authorities he always had wanted to be a DEA agent, had made the badge, and had been playing "cops and robbers" with his children. He forgot to take the badge out of his wallet, he told agents.
Investigators claim that he also wore the badge around his neck while selling a Ford Crown Victoria (a model often used in police work) in Alameda the week before.
It's not uncommon for impostors to get their hands on clothing, such as T-shirts, that has police information on it but doesn't require identification to purchase, the way uniforms do, said Stanislaus County deputy Royjindar Singh.
He said around New Year's, four teenagers wearing masks and shirts that said "SWAT" and "police" got out of a dark Crown Victoria and beat down the door of a home. They stole items and ransacked the house while residents were home, Singh said.
On Dec. 21, at least two armed robbers posing as police got inside a home in Atwater, tied up four victims and pistol-whipped one of them.
Copyright 2007 The Modesto Bee