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Hospitals on alert for police impersonator

Hospital employees at Parkview Regional Medical Center and Dupont Hospital have been put on alert that a man driving a white car and impersonating a law enforcement officer has been targeting women near the north-side hospital campuses.

However, police officials for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and Fort Wayne Police Department would not confirm any information the hospitals are circulating, and the Indiana State Police said they were aware of rumors circulating about a possible police impersonator.

Tom Rhoades, Parkview’s security director, sent an email warning to all Parkview employees Tuesday afternoon, Parkview spokesman Eric Clabaugh said.

The email’s subject line is “Security Alert” with three asterisks before and after the two-word phrase.

The message describes the impersonator as a white man with short brown hair and hazel eyes. The warning says officers know of four instances when women were followed or stopped by the man, who reportedly was seen wearing some sort of uniform and carrying a clipboard.

The incidents have all been on Interstate 469 between Indiana 37 and I-69, according to the email.

Officer Raquel Foster, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne police, and Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel, spokesman for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, each said their agencies have no active investigations into the alleged cases and there have been no reports filed with either agency.

Lt. Tony Casto, commander of the Indiana State Police Fort Wayne post, said his troopers were told last week to be on the lookout for a “police-like” vehicle that may be pulling people over.

That information came to troopers through law enforcement email channels, Casto said.

“Up until 2:15 (Wednesday afternoon) we have not taken any reports” of the suspicious activity, Casto said. “I know of no concrete instance where someone has been stopped.”

Casto said he has been trying to determine who was the original source of the “rumor.”

“When I did some backtracking, no one seems to know anything,” he said.

Attached to the hospitals’ email are two photos of a white, four-door sedan with a black bumper attachment (known as a pushbar) and handcuffs dangling from the rear-view mirror, identified as the car used in the alleged encounters.

Police officers do not hang handcuffs, or any other item, from their rear-view mirror, Tinkel said.

“No, we don’t hang anything from our rear-view mirrors,” he said, “if for no other reason, it serves as a projectile should we get into a crash. … In fact, we are not authorized to put anything on our rear-view mirrors.”

Clabaugh said he didn’t know why police wouldn’t have arrested the man if they’re familiar with his car and where it is parked. But, he said, Rhoades confirmed the validity of the alert with a police detective before sharing it.

It was not known which police agency’s detective confirmed the information for Rhoades. Fort Wayne police referred calls to the Allen County Sheriff’s Department when asked that question, and Tinkel said the sheriff’s department did not release any such information for public dissemination.

“If we were going to alert somebody, we would alert the public,” Fort Wayne’s Foster said.

Casto said he was curious about the photographs Rhoades’ email included.

When comparing what Rhoades sent to hospital employees, and what law enforcement received last week, Casto said, Rhoades has far more detail.

“The email we got originally said it was a police-type vehicle,” he said. “Now, we’re being shown a white Charger; … nothing in any of the emails received said it was a white, 2010 Charger. I don’t know where he got it other than the fact he said he confirmed it with a detective.”

Hospital staff members are on alert.

“Our security team has stepped up measures to be aware,” Clabaugh said.

The email was also shared with Dupont officials. Bonnie Hanson, the hospital’s chief operating officer, forwarded the email to hospital staff Wednesday morning.

The alerts the hospitals sent out have also gone viral on Facebook, along with the photographs, with thousands of people sharing it.

Regarding a possible impersonator, police offered some advice for handling suspicious situations. If an officer is driving an unmarked car, he will be in uniform. However, an officer driving a marked car can be in plain clothes, Tinkel said.

Overhead lights on police vehicles in Fort Wayne and Allen County are blue and red, not just one color. One-colored flashing lights are typically volunteer firefighters or paramedics.

If you believe someone trying to pull you over is an impostor, call 911 to verify it. Tinkel, and other officials recommend that you flash your hazard lights and wave your hand out your window indicating you know you are being followed and, in case it really is a police officer, that you are not trying to flee. Suspicious activity should always be reported to police.