Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jury: Coercive interrogation, false arrest violated rights of innocent woman accused of murder

Hephzibah Olivia Lord won her false arrest lawsuit against Dallas Detective Dwayne Thompson three years after she was arrested and later released on a murder charge when her boyfriend committed suicide, the Dallas Morning News reported. The jury concluded Thompson, a detective prominently featured on A&E's reality TV show, The First 48, acted with malice after viewing a tape of an interrogation where he flew into a profanity-laced rage. Reported the News' Kevin Krause (Jan. 17):
Thompson and his murder cases have been featured prominently on the popular A&E reality show The First 48. The show’s premise is that officers’ chances of solving a murder are “cut in half if they don’t get a lead within the first 48 hours.”

Thompson, a former Army captain who served in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, was suspicious of Lord almost from the beginning. She alleged in her lawsuit, filed almost three years ago, that he lied about certain evidence while ignoring other evidence that was favorable to her.

One of Thompson’s former colleagues in the homicide unit testified against him during the trial. Kim Sanders, who retired from the Police Department in 2008 after more than 30 years, told the jury he believed Lord was innocent based on his review of the evidence. He also questioned Thompson’s tactics while questioning Lord shortly after her boyfriend died.

In a video of the interrogation, Thompson asks Lord basic questions about what happened that night. He then explodes without warning into a rage and screams accusations at Lord, telling her over and over that she is lying and that he knows she killed Burnside.

During one of the more dramatic moments of the trial, Thompson’s lawyer acknowledged fearing that the jury could be swayed by a video of that intense interrogation. The lawyer, Jason Schuette, looked at Lord and told her he didn’t think she killed Burnside.

About the interrogation, Sanders said the interview amounted to intimidation and called the tone and line of questioning a “formula for a false confession.”
[Lord's lawyer Don] Tittle told jurors during his closing arguments that a verdict for his client would curb police abuses and reduce the chances of someone being arrested for murder when the evidence isn’t there.
As Grits noted on Wednesday, to me it wasn't just Thompson on trial but the Reid technique of interrogation, whose central tenets were on display in Lord's interrogation video: Intimidation, accusation, psychological manipulation, lying about evidence, cutting off denials ... these methods are taught to police interrogators across the country and, as Mr. Sanders told the jury, amount to a "formula for a false confession."

The Reid technique was developed to fill a void in the years after "third-degree" interrogation tactics were banned, using psychological manipulation rather than physical force to coerce interrogations but based on a similar approach. The US Supreme Court's famous Miranda warning was instituted in part as a (insufficient) buttress against the method's coercive tactics.

Ironically, one of the most prominent cases on which Det. John Reid, its creator who built a consulting empire around the approach, built his reputation in the 1950s resulted in a false confession that wasn't exposed until the poor forester, Darrel Parker, was exonerated and released in 1991. "In August 2012, the state of Nebraska issued a declaration of innocence to Parker and agreed to pay him $500,000. Attorney General Jon Bruning publicly declared that Parker was wrongly convicted and apologized."

In the U.K. and several other countries, the Reid technique has been abandoned in favor of a less confrontational method focused more on gathering information than extracting a confession. Dubbed the PEACE technique, the name is a mnemonic for Preparation and Planning; Engage and Explain; Account, Clarify and Challenge; Closure; and Evaluation. In the United States, though, the Reid method reigns supreme.

One reason police have resisted requirements to record interrogations - despite the superior evidential value of recordings in court - is that Reid methods often appear coercive and prejudicial to an outside viewer. That's because they are. When they're employed against a guilty suspect, people don't tend to care. But when they're employed against the innocent, they undermine the credibility of the investigation and the investigator. And in the case of Hephzibah Olivia Lord, a Dallas jury decided that, coupled with her false arrest, it violated her civil rights.

RELATED: From Texas Monthly, "How to get a teenager to admit to a crime he didn't commit."


ckikerintulia said...

Good outcome. Prosecutors also browbeat defendants. At least that's the way it was in Tulia more than a decade ago.

Anonymous said...

During his 22-years at the department, one can only imagine the number of innocents he helped put in prison. But the worst part of this is that in every medium-to-large police department across the country there's a psychopath just like Thompson who has made a career out of doing the exact same thing.

wiley said...

How is that the police aren't required to tape every interrogation? They need to be kept honest. Furthermore, no cop working on television should be working on the force. Melodrama or reality--- pick one.

I have to hope police officers and detectives aren't watching shows like "Lie to Me" and learning those bogus tricks the way fire marshals in Texas learned how "fire talks".

They need a whole lot more and better supervision.

Anonymous said...

False imprisonment happens much more than the public wants to know.Rogue justice officials misuse the 'plea barganing' system too much and youth are committed that are innocent! My book "Carnal Society": The Texas-National Sex Scandal,contains many actual situations of misuse of power and false confinement.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what evidence Lord presented at trial which proved Thompson lied, but it would seem possible anyhow that she could now have the impetus to bring a civil suit against him personally.

While certainly protected by laws if acting within the scope of his duties as a police officer, lying, if this can be proven, can be grounds to remove his immunity in a civil case.

Oatmeal for Brunch said...

As far as Texas law enforcement is concerned, operating under the microscope of audio/video recordings is second nature and generally embraced; most officers and investigators feel as though the camera or digital audio recorder protects him or her more than it hurts. Conducting an interrogation on audio or video (or never hurts to have a back up) is not only essential to the professional investigator, it is mandatory by law (see Texas CCP 38.22, Section 3) that a verbal statement obtained in an interrogation be electronically recorded in order for it to be admissible as evidence in court.

Additionally, this blog post contains a facile and flawed representation of the the "Reid Technique"

While it is true American police rely heavily on the teachings of the Reid Technique, it does not assume guilt and does not forgo thorough interviewing practices rooted in corroborative evidence/statements in favor of coercive interrogative accusations (though psychological manipulation is undoubtedly employed when appropriate...of course, not all psychological manipulation is wrong or harmful if used correctly and thoughtfully, a fact to which anyone who has ever raised a child can attest). In fact, the first 8 chapters of the 'The Essentials of the Reid Technique' (available through Amazon) focus on the how to properly conduct a thorough interview in order to help determine who needs to be questioned further and who should be sent home at the first opportunity. As far as cutting off denials is concerned, the Reid Technique teaches that not all denials are created equal: some should be shot down and others should be indulged as a strong indication of innocence. The ability to distinguish between the two is the hallmark of an experienced, skillful investigator.

To me, this was clearly a case of a detective misapplying and abusing an amalgamation of techniques he had been taught during his career (a pitfall his one time colleague, Det. Sanders, was ostensibly able to avoid). For instance, the Reid Technique absolutely does NOT advocate berating and/or cussing out an interviewee. Thompson's terrible interrogation techniques appear to have been the byproduct of loose supervision and an abundant ego, among other things. Like most tools and techniques taught/available to law enforcement (firearms, tasers, pepper spray, batons, etc), the misuse/misunderstanding of the Reid Technique can have devastating consequences. However, I believe it is more an indictment of that individual and not the tactic that is being wrongfully deployed.

Bottom line: all interrogations should be recorded. All confessions should be corroborated. Anyone who argues otherwise is simply a fool.

John K said...

My father was a long-time homicide detective and finished his LE career as head of internal affairs. What strikes me repeatedly in reading these stories is the extent to which the system appears to have jettisoned the practice of thorough, objective, labor-intensive investigations as the way to solve crimes.

All cops/prosecutors (who appear to function as a close-knit team) need do now is play the plea-bargain game: confess to whatever it is we're charging you with or bankrupt your family fighting us and ultimately die in prison...and they seem to play it as rabidly in relatively minor offenses as in violent crimes (have you ever heard of a federal offense -- regardless of how seemingly innocuous it might be -- that didn't call for imprisonment of up to 30 years or more?).

Moreover, cops/prosecutors run the game...judges having been mostly sidelined by legislators who built careers in part on demagogic, get-tough-on-crime campaigns.

I'm pretty sure Dad would be disappointed to see what's happened to the system.