Falsely claiming a black man shot him during a robbery attempt, a white off-duty police officer sparked a multi-agency manhunt in Ohio last week resulting in several innocent black men being detained at gunpoint because they “fit the description.”
Fortunately, none of them were killed.
But it could have easily gone that way had Rick Croff been carrying a concealed weapon – even though he has a concealed weapons permit – because the cops were extra fearful of black men that day. The experience was especially jarring for him considering he does not even fit the description of a 6-foot, thin-build black man other than being a black man driving a dark SUV.
“I’m hit twice, subject fled,” Warren police officer Noah Linnin told dispatchers.
Croff was one of at least three black men detained that day. He said his wife warned him not to go out since the news was reporting they were looking for a black man who tried to kill a cop but he blew it off, thinking he had nothing to worry about. He now knows better as he discusses in one of the news videos below.
Linnin was arrested two days later on several felonies when his story began to fall apart.
His initial story was that he was off-duty and driving his personal car when he came across an SUV on the side of the road that looked as if it needed help. And ever the good samaritan, he claimed he pulled over to help but a black man pulled a silver revolver on him and demanded to know if he was a cop to which he said he was. The black man then ordered him to hand over his gun so he handed over his personal back-up gun. The black man then demanded money which was when Linnin said he tossed his badge out the window to distract the black man, allowing him to pull his service weapon and fire at the man.
Linnin claimed the black man shot at him several times with his own gun before hopping into his dark SUV and driving off. He said he gave chase but then stopped and called 911, sparking a manhunt consisting of ten law enforcement agencies, including federal, state and local; about 45 cops in all, frantically searching the city of Warren for black men driving SUVs.
That story hardly adds up as is but when police reviewed video footage from four surveillance cameras, they did not see any SUV entering or leaving the area where the black man supposedly tried to kill him.
When investigators confronted Linnin with that fact, he changed his story to say it was a black man on a bicycle that fled on foot into nearby woods but not only does that story defeat the purpose of him stopping in the first place, there was no bicycle left behind to confirm the story. When confronted with that fact, he changed his story to say it was a black man on foot but surveillance video showed no black man on foot entering or leaving the area.
When it became obvious none of those stories was going to work, he changed his story altogether to say he fabricated the stories of the black man to avoid getting into trouble with his department after firing his service weapon in a road rage incident while he was off-duty and out of his jurisdiction.
And while there is no evidence to support that story, it sounds the most plausible given the violent tempers and control issues many cops tend to have. It is those same tendencies that placed the lives of those black men in danger.
The cops who spent at least a day searching the city for a non-existent black man who tried to kill a cop were outraged, embarrassed and apologetic once it became evident they had been misled by their own colleague.
According to WKBN 27:
Linnen is facing charges of tampering with evidence, falsification, interrupting public service and inducing panic.
Investigators say Linnen’s last story was that he fabricated the scene, making it look like a robbery and shootout, because he fired his gun at another vehicle that had swerved toward his car. He told police that he was angry at the driver for nearly hitting his car, according to an affidavit read during a Wednesday morning press conference.
He was off-duty at the time.
Investigators say after realizing what he had done, he shot at his own car because he was worried about being disciplined.
Merkel said Linnen had been a stand-out officer and had no history of disciplinary issues before. He said there was no reason at the time for officers not to believe his initial report.
“I want to publicly apologize to our community,” Merkel said.
Merkel, 23, had been a cop for less than two years. It is not uncommon for cops to fabricate ambushes on themselves as we reported here.
Watch the news video below of Croff discussing his traffic stop as well as videos of Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel and Howland Police Chief Nick Roberts discussing the arrest and the aftermath.