Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How Dallas cops are trained to interrogate suspects

At the Dallas News, Kevin Krause has a story ("Dallas detective defends investigation of woman later cleared in murder," Jan. 14) on a false arrest lawsuit against Dallas Detective Dwayne Thompson, brought by a woman named Hephzibah Olivia Lord who was arrested and later released on a murder charge after her boyfriend committed suicide. This bit jumped out at me:
Thompson also defended his aggressive interrogation of Lord several hours after the death. Jurors watched a video of the session during which he shouted profanity-laced accusations at Lord while working himself into a rage. Thompson said he employed techniques that he had learned during training, one of which is to directly accuse someone of a crime to see how they react.
“As unpleasant as it is, you have to make every attempt to arrive at what happened,” he testified.

But that interview, while revealing some inconsistencies, yielded no strong evidence of murder, Thompson said.
Lord did not crater under such "questioning." But some folks do, including innocent ones. (Ask Christopher Ochoa.) Thompson is almost certainly correct that he was trained to behave that way - it's a significant cause of false confessions and a method central to the so-called "Reid technique," which is the basis for nearly all police interrogation training in America. (See here, here, here, here, and here.) But does it really help to shout "profanity-laced accusations" while working oneself "into a rage" when there's a good chance the person is innocent (and legally are presumed to be)? Should that really be a routine part of police investigation?

There are alternatives to the Reid technique, but it's hard to blame officers for following their training. It's much harder, though, to understand why officers are still trained to behave that way.

MORE: An alert reader pointed out that Tod Robberson beat me to the punch on this topic yesterday at the Dallas Morning News Opinion Blog. Concluded Robberson:
These tactics reflect an outdated way of eliciting false confessions and justify why all such interrogations must be recorded. I don’t know what it is about some detectives, sheriffs and headstrong prosecutors who think that the goal is to win a confession and/or prosecution no matter what, and regardless of whether the person charged is guilty or not. That’s how Michael Morton wound up spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. That’s how Christopher Scott spent 12 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Both faced these aggressive, brutal interrogation tactics by overly eager law enforcers who refused to look at the evidence first before charging ahead with their assumption of guilt.

I hope Lord wins her current lawsuit against Thompson, because it’ll send a message to law enforcers everywhere that these tactics have to stop.
AND MORE: From Robberson. AND MORE: Kevin Krause reports on a former Dallas homicide cop named Kim Sanders, a 30-year veteran, who testified for the plaintiff at the trial. Here's a notable excerpt:
Sanders testified that he reviewed evidence in the case and that the Burnside death looked like a self-inflicted accidental shooting or a suicide.

Sanders also said he was shocked by how Thompson treated Lord during her interrogation.
Thompson shouted accusations at Lord in a booming voice, using profanity and whipping himself into a rage. He defended his actions during the trial, saying he was using acceptable methods that he learned during training.

“This went beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” Sanders said during testimony.
He said you can’t intimidate someone into saying something, and he called it a “formula for a false confession.”

But Thompson said it was one of three interview techniques he learned from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.


Anonymous said...

The DMN also has a related editorial concerning the need to record custodial interrogations.

Anonymous said...

Detectives trained to use no rationality nor common sense. A suspect will be a lot more cooperative when approached in non threatening fashion. Not to mention false admissions would probably be zero.

Anonymous said...

These tactics reflect an outdated way of eliciting false confessions

That's good, Dave. But why say North Vietnamese Army regular? Is there an irregular? How about North Vietnamese Army soldier?


Socialist Gumshoe said...

After accidentally discovering one very well recognized officer with the Seattle Police Department relied on the Reid Technique, I have begun asking about it whenever I interview a detective or officer who has interrogated a defendant. My mind has been blown by how many of them reference the Reid Technique.

This is clearly one of those situations where old habits are hard to break. Unfortunately, failing to break them can have very serious consequences.

Anonymous said...

By the way - Lord won today! She was completely and totally vindicated!