Monday, July 07, 2008

Police lied, falsified documents during interrogation that led to teen's untimely death

Lying to suspects during police interrogations is a common practice that courts have long supported, but the tactic carries with it serious risks that are frequently understated or overlooked.

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 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.
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.

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.

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."
Well, perhaps the pictures don't. The problem is that police officers do.

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)


Tabatha Atwood said...

that is horrifying- to be so cavalier with a 16 year old's life

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is horrific. Have you ever put yourself in the position of having to solve yet another senseless crime? You seem to demand perfection, this thing is not as simple as your Monday morning quarterbacking would suggest.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If it's not so simple, 9:36, please explain the complexities to me. What benefits were derived in this case from the public policy of allowing police to lie about incriminating evidence during an interrogation? Enlighten me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:36 needs to get a grip, calm down and think straight.

The two detectives involved are obviously incompetent and/or poorly trained. People in LA will be much better off if those two are now doing something honest, like sweeping streets or picking up trash.

Lying to suspects is one thing; falsifying official documents is another. Why couldn't they be prosecuted for that just as Anon. 9:36 would be if he/she falsified similar documents.

Think of it this way Anon, if you can: The 16 year old would not have been murdered except for the venality and stupidity of the two cops. The murderer of the 16 year old would have escaped detection, if those two dumbasses had not had someone check their work. Would you want to live in a community policed by such stupidity?

If not, make sure the next judge you vote for has a position against police lying.

Anonymous said...

Where were these guys lawyers. Aren't lawyers allowed to be present during interagations?
Why would you say anything without a lawyer present?

Anonymous said...

When the police 'interrogate' an innocent, their dirty tricks put across a clear message -- that they are willfully and knowingly framing him with false witnesses and false evidence, so either he cuts a deal and falsely confesses to a lesser charge or they will try him on all possible charges and get a conviction.

Extorting a confession is a felony. Doing so under color of authority compounds the felony. The correct action to take is put every bad cop into prison as soon as he commits his first crime.

If cops cannot do their jobs without committing crimes, then they are not only incompetent, they are professional criminals.

Anonymous said...

Bill the cat, Clearly, you are right.


Anonymous said...

Dishonest, lying, arrogant, vindictive, heavily armed, threatening, coercive, intimidating, cruel, foul mouthed authorities of the government honestly think they are "The good guys"?

If one closed one's lying mouth, opened one's listening ears, and seeing eyes, and most definitely quit playing games, one might understand more accurately the things that happened concerning "Horrific", "Senseless crime", and therefore be a better investigator.

All that was sought is lost, the true perpetrator is free, and "The good guys" aren't good in any way, when an innocent person feels forced to confess to a crime.

Anonymous said...

This certainly helps to explain why prosecutors are opposed to further DNA testing after the crime has been "solved" and the "conviction" is a done deal.

I'm starting to believe that isn't about protecting society from dangerous criminals, but about the politics of getting any price.

Anonymous said...

"Convictions at any price"? You're just now figuring that out????? Christ, that's been the game in this country and specifically, Texas for decades. Just look at the what's been going on in Dallas with that old POS DA they had for years. The United States of America is a POLICE STATE. Has been for many years. Believe it.

Anonymous said...

Under the provisions of the California Penal Code those detectives have participated (as accessories) in murder - they used fraud to induce the murderer to commit the crime. I wonder if they will be prosecuted for it? Maybe Gov. Moonbeam needs to be told to take on that case.