Greater Akron last heard from former U.S. Navy SEAL Christopher Heben in 2015 after a jury found him not guilty of filing a false police report claiming a black man shot him outside Mustard Seed Market in Bath Township.
Now the 49-year-old Northeast Ohio native is back in the news.
He has a new name — Christopher McKinley — and a new mystery: Why were he and four other Americans reportedly armed with automatic rifles, pistols and drones tooling around Haiti’s capital in unmarked vehicles during violent protests Feb. 17?
News accounts said McKinley or one of his traveling companions, which also included two Serbians and a Haitian, told police they were there on a government mission.
But whose government — the U.S., Haitian or some other — was not specified, nor was the goal of their heavily armed mission.
The group, arrested for illegal weapons, was released by Haitian authorities and returned to U.S. soil last week.
It seems unlikely the public will ever know the true nature of their travels since the men face no charges in U.S. courts.
So the Haitian incident becomes another chapter in McKinley’s public life of intrigue, an unfolding story that public records and news stories show has put him on both sides of the law.
McKinley, who declined to be interviewed for this article, grew up in Lakewood and seems to have gotten off to a rocky start as a young adult. Cleveland-based Scene magazine detailed a handful of misdemeanor arrests McKinley accumulated during his 20s in Cleveland and surrounding suburbs that involved drugs, telephone harassment and menacing.
But his life appeared to have taken a turn in 1996. He read an article in Popular Mechanics about the U.S. Navy SEALs and decided to enlist.
In the military, McKinley appeared to thrive. After two years of training, he was assigned to SEAL Team 8, serving in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict. Over a decade, McKinley served as a medic, a sniper, an intelligence analyst and more.
He returned to Northeast Ohio after he left combat in 2006 and became a licensed physician assistant, someone who often serves as the primary health care provider for patients, writing prescriptions and deciding treatment plans.
Brushes with law
Trouble soon followed, however. In 2008, McKinley was found guilty of three felony forgery charges, according to Ohio’s medical licensing records.
Those online records do not detail specifics — including where the offense occurred — but they do say “the underlying conduct being the physician assistant’s forging of prescriptions for controlled substances and using the physician assistant position to facilitate the offenses.”
Scene magazine reported the forgeries happened while McKinley was working as a physician assistant in Alliance. McKinley, they said, forged a doctor's signature for anabolic steroids more than a dozen times.
The next year, the state medical board considered permanently revoking McKinley’s license, but instead suspended it for at least two years and set up conditions before it could be reinstated, state records show.
Unable to work as a physician assistant, McKinley declared bankruptcy in 2011.
At the time, court records show he was part owner of Trident Medical, a medical device sales business, and Medical Security International, which trained combat medics.
McKinley, meanwhile, was reinventing himself.
He parlayed his good looks and combat experience into television work as an expert in security and warfare.
He appeared on hundreds of cable news shows, series that ran on the Discovery and History channels and as a guest speaker at corporate events.
McKinley seemed to have finally found his niche.
But then, in March 2014, he turned up at the Bath Township fire and police stations with a gunshot wound to the stomach.
He told police — and later reporters — that it happened in the Montrose parking lot of Mustard Seed Market when he got into a beef with a guy who almost backed into him.
According to McKinley, it unfolded like this: McKinley told the driver he needed to pay attention to where he was going.
A few moments later, when McKinley exited the store, the same driver — whom McKinley said was black — told him: "You got a big mouth, white boy. You need to learn some [expletive] respect."
McKinley told the driver respect is earned and offered to show him.
That’s when, McKinley said, he was shot, either by the driver or one or two black men with him.
Instead of calling 911, McKinley said he jumped in his pickup truck. He plugged the bullet hole in his stomach with one of his fingers, and chased after his attackers before getting woozy and driving himself to Bath Township Hall, which is about 2.5 miles from Mustard Seed.
As McKinley recovered after surgery in a hospital, his shooting story went viral. Initially, he was portrayed as a war hero who tried to track down a shooter.
But months later, the story changed: Bath police said McKinley made it up.
Then-Police Chief Michael McNeely said there was no video or witness evidence showing McKinley had been shot in the busy parking lot during a Friday afternoon rush hour.
"All we know is that it didn't happen in our township," McNeely said in 2014. The police filed misdemeanor charges of falsification and obstructing police against McKinley.
McKinley stood by his story, but his public appearance faded.
In 2015, an Akron Municipal Court jury found McKinley not guilty of making up a police report.
Afterward, McKinley said he knew the verdict wouldn’t change some people's minds, but that it was the right conclusion.
Some time later McKinley — who was until then known by his family name, Heben — changed his name.
Last year, at his request, the State Medical Board of Ohio reinstated McKinley's physician assistant license.
But McKinley’s career does not seem focused on helping people with sniffles and arthritis.
McKinley now runs Invictvs Group.
Its website describes McKinley as a physician assistant, speaker, author, singer — his single, “American Patriot” is on iTunes — entrepreneur and human motivator.
It describes his business as “a consortium of U.S. special operation veterans.”
In Haiti, McKinley was arrested with another former Navy SEAL, Christopher Michael Osman, U.S. Marine veteran Kent Leland Kroeker and two other Americans, including a private investigator once employed by Blackwater and the State Department’s diplomatic security service.
It’s not clear if they were working with Invictvs Group.
After McKinley and the others — described by one Haitian political leader as mercenaries — were released from Haitian custody, they were shepherded to an airport by U.S. Embassy staff, the Miami Herald reported.
There, McKinley and his group waited in a VIP diplomatic salon before catching an American Airlines flight home for his next adventure.
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org