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Orem • Mark Vreeland says he was so scared after chasing down a Brigham Young University student he suspected of running a stop sign that he nearly reached for his gun.
"It was one of the few times in my life I put my hand on the .38 special in between the front seats of my car," Vreeland told Orem Justice Court Judge Reed Parkin on Monday.
The self-described Orem activist insists he felt threatened as the student approached but left the gun tucked away. Instead, Vreeland told the man, whom he also had grilled about his immigration status, that he was a cop.
On Monday, Parkin sentenced Vreeland to four days of work diversion at the Utah County Jail for impersonating a police officer. He also ordered the 59-year-old to pay a $500 fine, serve a year's probation and take a class in how to make better decisions.
"We need to make sure that nobody impersonates a police officer," Parkin said.
Vreeland, who pleaded no contest to the class B misdemeanor last week, can perform 25 hours of community service to cover half his fine. He cannot have contact with the BYU student or the student's friend who was with him during the confrontation.
In June, Vreeland pursued Alcides Souza, a BYU student here on a visa from Brazil, for allegedly running a stop sign. When he caught up with him, Vreeland got out of the car wearing a hat with the words "police" and "ICE" the acronym of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
City Prosecutor Robert Church said Vreeland then questioned Souza's immigration status and, according to the student, ordered him to stand on the curb with his hands up.
Church said Vreeland accused Souza and the friend at whose house they had stopped of engaging in a drug deal because the friend had a nice car, nice house and was Brazilian.
Souza has said the encounter left him "looking over my shoulder" and fearful for him and his family.
Church noted Vreeland previously pleaded no contest to electronic communications harassment. Vreeland earlier said that charge stemmed from a divorce.
Grant Nagamatsu, Vreeland's attorney, argued for community service, noting Vreeland's actions were motivated by a concern for neighborhood safety. He said Vreeland frequently called police with tips about suspected drug dealing and traffic violations.
"The welfare of this neighborhood and Orem," Nagamatsu said, "is important to him."
Not all of Vreeland's neighbors appreciated his brand of help. One resident said Vreeland falsely accused her and her husband of child abuse and illegal drug use. He left a note on her door threatening to come over with his sons, whom he said were in the military, to deal with them.
Nagamatsu said Vreeland impersonated a police officer only to defuse what he feared was a dangerous encounter. But Church said Vreeland escalated the confrontation when he refused to accept Souza's denial that he had run the stop sign.
"He wants to make the [traffic] stop," Church said. "He wants to be the cop."
The prosecutor sought 20 days in jail.
Vreeland called Parkin's sentence fair, but accused Church of wrongly trying to paint him as a racist.