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Man arrested after impersonating police officer, pulling over driver

A 29-year-old Petaluma man was arrested this week for impersonating a police officer after he allegedly pulled over a female driver just east of Sonoma and asked for her identification.

The victim said she was traveling westbound on Napa Road on Feb. 2 when the man, later identified by police as Benjamin Philip Cannon, signaled her to stop. She said the man's car displayed a red light.

She told Sheriff's deputies that the man, who was wearing plain clothes, quickly flashed what appeared to be a badge and asked for ID.

Sheriff's officials said the victim felt uncomfortable about the encounter and asked that a marked patrol car respond to the scene. She told deputies that the man became uncomfortable, returned to his vehicle and drove away.

The victim then contacted the Sheriff's Office, whose violent crimes investigation unit "developed" Cannon as a possible suspect, according to a Sheriff's Office statement.

The victim positively identified Cannon as the suspect and Sheriff's detectives initiated surveillance. After detectives located him, he was arrested at his home on the 1100 block of East Sunnyslope Road.

After obtaining a search warrant, detectives searched his residence and car, a silver 2001 BMW. Inside the BMW, detectives found a police scanner, strobe light, handcuffs and a siren.

He was arrested for impersonating a police officer and false imprisonment and booked in Sonoma County Jail. His bail was set at $10,000.

The Sheriff's Office statement said the victim's request for a marked police car "may have deterred the suspect and prevented a more serious incident."

Lt. Scott Dunn said that drivers who are stopped by unmarked vehicles displaying emergency lights should proceed with caution but acknowledge the vehicle "perhaps by signaling out the window."

"Proceed to a safe location, perhaps to a firehouse, a police station if you know where one is or an occupied gas station," Dunn said, adding that it may very well be a Sheriff's detective conducting a traffic stop.

"If you don't acknowledge it, then we start to consider that perhaps it's a pursuit," he said.

For reasons of law enforcement security, Dunn would not reveal the types of unmarked vehicles used by Sheriff's detectives. But he said it's unlikely such vehicles would be "high end" sports cars.

Also, Dunn said the state vehicle code has a number of strict regulations that outline what type of emergency lights can be used by law enforcement agencies and other first responders.

He said that in California, all emergency vehicles are mandated to have a steady red light in conjunction with whatever other color lights are used. The state vehicle code also mandates that only law enforcement vehicles can use a blue light.

Dash-mounted lights are not uncommon but the single light on the roof of the car is unlikely. "Personally, I don't know of any agency that uses a single, Kojak-type light on the roof," he said.

Sheriff's officials ask that anyone who may have encountered a similar situation or anyone with information about this case please contact Detective James Naugle at (707) 565-2185.

?- Martin Espinoza, The Press Democrat

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