Having focused recently on police interrogations practices that lead to false confessions and other negative outcomes, I'd be remiss not to point readers to an article from the LA Times about a 16-year old girl who was murdered because police falsely told a gangbanger/murderer during interrogation that she'd picked him out of a lineup ("Interrogation, then revenge," July 2):
When [detectives] Pinner and Rodriguez stepped into the interrogation room with Ledesma [the suspect], they had little real information to work with.So if police hadn't lied about Ledesma's girlfriend allegedly ratting him out - even phonying up official documents and forging her initials - she'd almost certainly still be alive today. That's enough reason right there for police to avoid telling lies in the interrogation room that misrepresent the actions of others. They're not the ones who must pay the ultimate price if some thug decides to murder the supposed witness against them. In this case, the sixteen year old detectives falsely accused had actually refused to substantially cooperate with police.
So they made up what they needed.
The photo six-pack was a complete fake. Rodriguez had doctored it, circling Ledesma's photo and forging Puebla's statement and signature.
The "ruse," as Pinner would later call it in court, was a legal move. Federal and state courts throughout the country have repeatedly upheld the right of police officers to lie to people they have in custody.
Interrogation rooms, experts say, are freewheeling places. Detectives lie frequently, typically telling a suspect that they have DNA evidence or video footage or witnesses. Sometimes they go the extra step of making up documents to bolster their lies.
Ironically, reports the Times, in the investigation of the girl's murder LA police initially identified and accused the wrong suspect, once again using phony documentation to lie to him during the interrogation:
Before federal prosecutors and the LAPD sorted out Puebla's murder, however, Pinner and Rodriguez had arrested an innocent man in connection with Puebla's slaying. Based on bad information from sources, the detectives pinned the slaying on Juan Catalan -- Mario Catalan's brother. Juan Catalan sat in jail for five months awaiting trial until his lawyer turned up video footage showing Catalan was at a Dodgers game at the time of the shooting. A judge threw out the case, and Catalan was awarded $320,000 in a wrongful-arrest suit.Well, perhaps the pictures don't. The problem is that police officers do.
The day the detectives arrested Juan Catalan, they thought they had the right man. They brought him into an interview room in the same North Hollywood station where they had grilled Ledesma nine months before. Once again they switched on a recorder. Catalan begged the detectives to believe him, that he had nothing to do with Puebla's death. He asked to take a lie-detector test.
But Pinner and Rodriguez weren't having any of it. Pinner told Catalan that people had seen him shoot the girl. He pushed three six-packs in front of him. His picture was circled. Witnesses had signed their names.
They were all fake. But Catalan, of course, didn't know that.
"You see," Rodriguez told Catalan, "the pictures don't lie."
These kind of coercive, manipulative tactics result directly from police training and the common interrogation practices that have (questionably) received the courts' seal of approval. Police look for deception cues during the early portion of the interrogation, then ramp up more coercive or mendacious tactics once they decide s suspect is being deceptive. But this case shows the enormous downsides to that tactic, potentially endangering or falsely accusing innocent people. Perhaps it's time to reconsider the practice altogether.
(Hat tip to Rebecca)