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Leland police explain charges against alleged officer impersonator

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 12:49 PM EDT
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LELAND, N.C. (WECT) - The Leland Police Department addressed questions Wednesday after a man accused of pretending to be a police officer appeared to not face impersonation charges.

“Pretty much immediately, our personnel thought that something wasn’t quite right with this individual and his mannerisms, his speech, how he was portraying himself on the scene,” said Lt. Dallas Warren with the Leland Police Department.

Eric Cinotti approached officers on the scene of an EMS call last week. He was driving a legitimate Navassa police SUV, but things weren’t adding up. It’s unclear what tipped police off, but Lt. Warren says all officers on scene were immediately concerned that he was not a “certified law enforcement officer with the state of North Carolina.” A subsequent investigation led them to discover that Cinotti is not a member of the Navassa Police Department and was never a town employee in any capacity.

Warren says Cinotti is charged with impersonating a police officer, even though his arrest warrant says he’s charged with one count of operating a vehicle with a blue light.

“The language on the arrest warrant discusses operating a vehicle with blue light. That is an element of the crime impersonation of a law enforcement officer,” said Warren. “By operating a vehicle with a blue light running, that element is what made the crime a felony.”

RELATED: Leland man charged with operating vehicle with a blue light.

It’s unclear how Cinotti gained access to the vehicle.

Navassa town attorney Norwood Blanchard said Cinotti never worked for the town and the police department is no longer operable. Former Navassa police chief Preston Howell left the police department several weeks ago. Another officer took over as acting chief after his departure but also left the police department earlier this week. Blanchard says his departure was not the result of disciplinary action, but could not clarify if his departure was related to the incident with Cinotti.

Meanwhile, Lt. Warren says he’s just glad his officers could recognize that something was wrong. There are also several ways citizens can recognize if an officer is legitimate or not.

“[Officers wear] a more traditional police uniform,” said Lt. Warren. “It’s got our patches on the side of each sleeve, they have a metal badge pinned on to their shirt, they’ve got their body cameras, nametags. Their duty belt contains all the equipment-- gun, taser, extra magazines, police radio...”

Anyone who has interacted with Cinotti in the past week is asked to call Leland Police 910-371-1100.

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