WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – It was right around the intersection of Willard Avenue and Youngstown Road in Warren that Rick Croff was swarmed by police while driving down the road.
They were looking for a man who shot at another officer. The only problem is that police are now saying the shooting never happened.
Croff said his wife warned him not to go out after hearing that a cop had been shot and they were looking for a suspect. He said he wasn’t worried, though, because he did nothing wrong.
Croff headed out to make a run to the store around 5:30 p.m. January 13. That’s when officers pulled him over and he says told him to get out of the vehicle before searching it.
The officers were responding to reports that Warren police officer Noah Linnen had been involved in a shooting nearby.
At the time, Linnen told investigators that he exchanged gunfire with a black man in his mid-30s who was about 6 feet tall with a slim build in a black SUV.
Police were out searching for the suspect when they pulled over Croff.
However, Croff said he didn’t match that description at all, other than the fact that he was a black man.
“It’s upsetting to know that I can’t even leave my own house to go anywhere without being targeted, just because the color I am and what I’m driving,” he said.
Since the news broke about the alleged shooting, investigators say Linnen changed his story about what happened multiple times, leading police to believe he was lying about what happened.
Police said Linnen eventually admitted that he shot at a car, which had gone left of center, nearly hitting his vehicle as he was on the side of the roadway. He said that angered him and he fired shots at the vehicle from his car.
Linnen has been arrested and charged with tampering with evidence, falsification, interrupting public service and inducing panic. He has also been fired from the Warren Police Department.
Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel said he is disgusted by the actions of the officer.
In a termination letter to Linnen, Merkel stated, “Worst of all, your concocted story pointed the finger at a “black male.” Your description subjected every black male in the entire Trumbull County area, especially in the near vicinity, to the torment of being accused of shooting a police officer. Your description perpetuated a stereotype that black makes make more credible suspects.”
He said officers responded swiftly to back up Linnen for what he says ended up to be a “hoax.”
“I think close to 50 marked police officers were pushing people off the road way to get over there to back this officer up in what they believed was a true story. Black males were traffic stopped in dark colored SUVs in the area, I mean this, it’s outrageous,” Merkel said.
Croff said he does have a CCW and had he been carrying his weapon at the time, he believes the traffic stop could have gone completely different, and he could have possibly gotten hurt.
In the video above, you can hear Croff explain what transpired when he was pulled over and his thoughts on the officer involved.