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La Crosse man arrested for impersonating police officer in Caledonia

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Photo courtesy Houston County jail Photo courtesy Houston County jail

CALEDONIA, Minnesota (WXOW) -- A La Crosse man has been arrested in Caledonia for impersonating a police officer.

Police allege Derek Dale Newman frequently carried a gun with him while embarking on several ride-alongs with officers in both Houston County and Vernon County, Wisconsin.

Newman, 25, of La Crosse, is charged with possession of a dangerous weapon in a courthouse and committing a crime while wearing or possessing a bullet proof vest. Both charges are felonies carrying maximum sentences of five years in prison. Newman also faces misdemeanor charges for impersonating a police officer and carrying a pistol in public without a permit.

According to a criminal complaint, Newman was taking part in an official, ride-along with a Caledonia police officer on November 22. Newman and the officer met up with two officers from the Houston County Sheriff's Department at the Caledonia Kwik Trip station at 110 N. Sunset Blvd.

At the Kwik Trip, Newman told the Houston County officers, Lt. Brian Swedberg and Deputy Nate Smith, that he was currently working as a part time police officer in the Town of Campbell.

Newman said he was hired there after having his hours cut back from full time to part time at the Vernon County Sheriff's Department, where Newman also said he worked. At the time of the meeting Newman was wearing a stocking cap with "CPD" stitched on the side, as well as a jacket with what appeared to be a police badge sewn onto it, the complaint reads.

Caledonia Police Chief Kurt Zehnder said Newman participated in several ride-alongs with his department after forming a year-long friendship with a Caledonia police officer.

Zehnder said the friendship began when Newman met up with the officer in La Crosse to purchase some items he'd seen listed on the online, auction site eBay. He said the officer told Newman he was a police official, to which Newman replied, "so am I."

Zehnder said as members of his department came to know Newman better over the next 12 months, they all believed him to be an authorized police officer. "He knew a lot of things most civilians don't know," Zehnder said, citing Newman's knowledge of the police reciprocity agreements between Minnesota and Wisconsin as one example.

Zehnder said it took roughly a year for Newman to request to ride-along with Caledonia police officers, and added "it is not uncommon" for officers from different police departments to ride along with one another. He said it's also typical for police officer to bring their guns on ride-alongs. "You're always on duty," he said.

Newman participated on several ride alongs with two, different Caledonia police officers.

Caledonia police never officially looked into Newman's background beforehand.

But following the ride along on November 22, in which Newman was introduced to Swedberg and Smith, the latter decided to check with a friend, who works at the Campbell Police Department, regarding Newman's employment there.

On November 24, Smith's friend told him he had never heard of Newman, the criminal complaint alleges.

According to the complaint, Swedberg then contacted the Campbell Police Department and confirmed Newman was not a part time officer. Swedberg also contacted the Vernon County Sheriff's Department and was told Newman had never worked there, although he had gone on several ride-alongs with Vernon County officers.

On November 27, a Caledonia police officer arranged a ride-along with Newman and the two drove to the Houston County Justice Center, which contains the sheriff's department, the complaint alleges. Upon entering the building, Newman and the officer checked their guns at a lock box and Newman was arrested shortly afterwards by Houston County Sheriff's Department officers.

According to the criminal complaint, police searched Newman and found the aforementioned cap and jacket resembling police attire. He was also wearing a bullet proof vest and a belt with a holster, which had been carrying his Springfield XD-4 handgun. The gun, which Newman had locked up upon entering the building, contained 11 bullets in its magazine, according to the complaint.

La Crosse defense attorney Joe Veenstra, who is not affiliated with the case, said whoever defends Newman will likely point out in court that the police strategy of luring him into the courthouse resulted in a more severe, felony charge. "He sort of played into the hands of law enforcement who invited him to come with them into a place where the penalties were much more severe," Veenstra said.

Zehnder said his department remains shaken by the incident. "This guy looked, acted and walked the part," of a police officer, he said. "We took an oath to uphold the laws here and if you don't think we're upset about the whole deal, think again," Zehnder said. "We are livid."

Assistant county attorney Suzanne Bublitz said she could not comment on Newman's mental state due to an ongoing evaluation of his condition. "But obviously something is a little bit wrong," Bublitz said.

Zehnder said the incident has already been discussed with the officer who befriended Newman, as well as Caledonia's City Administrator, and there will be no disciplinary action taken against anybody on the department. "My officers did not do anything wrong," Zehnder said. "But is it a learning experience? You bet it's a learning experience."

Following his arrest, Newman told officers he had taken criminal justice classes in the past but "had to quit due to problems," the complaint alleges.

The complaint also claims Newman said he had bought his handgun at Ace Hardware, and had the "CPD" logo custom stitched onto his cap. He said he also bought shirts that read "CPD." "I believe Caledonia Police had provided him with some shirts, after he went on ride-alongs with them," said Bublitz said. "He probably put the patches on himself," she said. "It's not a crime to have 'CPD' stitched on a shirt or a hat."

Newman is currently out of jail on a $5-thousand, conditional bond. He's due back in court for an omnibus hearing at the end of the month, in which his defense counsel will be able to present challenges to evidence and other legal procedure in regards to the case. "At this time, there are no motions pending," Bublitz said.

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