Saturday, December 6, 2014
Man at center of Stolen Valor case once impersonated dead cop
Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2014
A Philadelphia man apparently likes dressing up in uniforms.
Last week, he was wearing Army fatigues at the Oxford Valley Mall in Middletown when he was confronted by an Army veteran who suspected that the man never served in the military. The veteran of Afghanistan who lives in Northampton posted the video of the confrontation on YouTube and it has since generated more than 2.8 million views and incensed military families nationwide.
Back in 2003, his uniform of choice was a police coat.
The now 30-year-old Sean Yetman was arrested while wearing the coat of a Philadelphia officer who died in the line of duty. He pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court in May of that year to impersonating a public servant, a second-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to three months of probation for that crime along with a summary offense of driving with a suspended or revoked license, according to online court records.
Yetman was arrested after being stopped on North Main Street in Doylestown during a routine traffic safety checkpoint while wearing the coat and displaying a Philadelphia police badge, according to court records obtained by Calkins Media. Both items belonged to the late Robert Hays, who was killed in the line of duty in 1995, the Philadelphia Police Department confirmed.
He told the Doylestown officers that he worked out of the city’s 26th District in Fishtown, but then added that he was in the police academy and working in the 26th as a drive-along, court documents show. The police coat, he said, belonged to his uncle.
He was unable to produce a valid driver’s license or any other identification to verify that he was a Philadelphia police officer, Doylestown officers said. They found out that Yetman had a Pennsylvania Identification Card, which came back showing the man’s driver’s license had been suspended, officers said.
Doylestown police later spoke with Hays’ widow, who said that she had given her son one of her husband’s coats and badges after his death. She also said her son knew Yetman through his girlfriend, according to the court records.
“She said she did not know how Yetman had come into possession of the jacket and the badge,” police said.
A woman who answered the door of Yetman’s house on Saturday claimed that Yetman had a military background but declined to provide details. She said the family had no comment on the issue. Phone numbers listed under Yetman’s name have been disconnected and his Facebook account was taken down Saturday.
According to a story in the “Army Times,” Yetman’s fiancee said in an email that “the blow-back to Yetman and his family has been vicious.”
The newspaper reported that the woman said Yetman has lost his job.
“We are now hearing death threats. All of this has us concerned for our children and their safety,” she wrote, according to the Army Times. “He is a good man with a very big heart and this backlash has spiraled him into a deep depression.”
In the YouTube video that went viral and was shot on Black Friday, Yetman tells veteran Ryan Berk, who was a sergeant while serving in Afghanistan, that he is a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Rangers and claims he recently returned from Fort Lewis, Washington, which is the base for the 75th Ranger Regiment, 2nd Battalion.
Yetman doesn’t appear in the U.S. Army’s database, according to retired Col. Richard Nurnberg, the executive director of the National Infantry Association at Fort Benning, Georgia. That means he is not active duty or recently retired. The database covers reservists as well as Army Rangers, an elite special operations unit.
Yetman’s name also was not found in any database of Army members who have undergone Ranger training at Fort Benning, according to Nurnberg.
He added that a misdemeanor conviction, such as impersonating a police officer, would not keep someone out of the Army.
During the 3-minute, 26-second video, Berk becomes furious with Yetman for wearing the uniform without ever having served. Berk suspected Yetman was not a soldier because elements of his uniform didn’t appear correct and he had trouble answering some basic military service questions, including how he received the three Combat Infantrymen Badges he wore, Berk added.
Berk, who was awarded a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Afghanistan, told Yetman that he would need to be in three different campaigns. Yetman responded that one badge was for service in Iraq and the others for different tours of Afghanistan.
But military authorities, including the National Infantry Association, confirmed that only one CIB would be awarded for service in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and/or Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn).
Middletown police and a U.S. Army investigator are reviewing all available video footage to determine if a crime was committed by Yetman while wearing the uniform.
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, who represents Bucks County sent a letter to Philadelphia-area U.S. attorney Zane Memeger on Monday, notifying him that the video could “possibly” contain evidence of a federal crime under the Stolen Valor Act.
Civilian and military authorities are looking into whether Yetman sought or received military discounts while at the mall on Black Friday or if he violated a state law that forbids the unauthorized wearing of military decorations.
Falsely claiming to be a member of the military is not illegal, but under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, it’s against federal law for an individual to fraudulently portray him or herself as a recipient of any of several specified military decorations or medals with the intent to obtain money, property or other “tangible” benefit.
Surplus military uniforms, fatigues and other items, including badges, are available for sale in Army Navy stores, and online. But Nurnberg said that if a military service member wants to give away a uniform, he or she must remove the “U.S. Army” identification badge above the left pocket. That identification marker appears on the uniform Yetman is wearing in the YouTube video, he added.
Under Pennsylvania law it is a summary offense to wear a uniform, decoration insignia or other distinctive emblems of any branch of the armed forces of the United States for the purpose of obtaining aid, profit or while soliciting contributions or subscriptions. It is also a summary offense to, without authority, knowingly wear, exhibit, display or use for any purpose any military or veteran insignia.
Also, it is a third-degree misdemeanor in the state if a person, without authority, purchases, sells, offers for sale or accepts as a “pledge or pawn,” any medal, insignia or decoration granted for service in the armed forces.
On Wednesday, Bucks County’s chief of prosecutions, Matt Weintraub, said that in order to pursue the misdemeanor offense involving military decorations, authorities would need to prove that Yetman purchased the CIB badges in Pennsylvania and without authority.