The reported armed robbery of a citizen visiting the Rheem Valley Shopping Center in Moraga nearly two months ago was a hoax, Moraga police confirmed Tuesday, and has led to charges for the "victim" -- a 25-year-old Walnut Creek man who allegedly concocted the story so he could watch how police responded.
A misdemeanor charge of filing a false report of a crime has been lodged against Yang Chen, 25, who initially told officers responding to his call for help the evening of February 28 that he'd been robbed by a black man wearing a hoodie and wielding a knife.
Chen's call for help came at a time of increased community concern over recent armed robberies in Lafayette and Orinda. Officers from both of those cities arrived to back up Moraga police as they searched for the "suspect," who Chen said had taken $200 from him and run off in the direction of Moraga Road and Rheem Boulevard.
"The initial response by three police agencies, Moraga PD's investigative time, and the cost of a sketch artist represents a significant and unnecessary use of public funds," Police Chief Robert Priebe reported. "Additionally, the sketch of the fictitious black suspect caused local law enforcement to focus on any look-alike as a potential armed suspect."
Priebe said Chen's description and accompanying police sketch was widely disseminated to local law enforcement agencies immediately after the incident. But, he said, "inconsistencies" began to emerge in Chen's story and he was re-interviewed -- later admitting that he'd fabricated the story to see how police would react.
"The false report caused safety concerns for local citizens and, as a result, may have negatively impacted the retailers at the center," Priebe said.
Chen is scheduled to make an initial court appearance on the misdemeanor charge on May 7 at 8:30 a.m. in Walnut Creek Superior Court.