Category Archives: Police conduct (good and bad)

Thanks to courts, police perjury remains major problem

According to an old lawyer joke, the best way to tell when a lawyer is lying is to look to see if his lips are moving. That rule seems to apply to cops on the witness stand, too. But “testilying” is no laughing matter. It is undoubtedly a significant factor in many wrongful convictions.

Proving it to the courts’ satisfaction, though, is another matter. As Radley Balko notes here, “The problem isn’t that cops aren’t capable of telling the truth. The problem is that the courts have treated cops as if they’re incapable of lying.”

Alan M. Dershowitz said the same thing in an op-ed in 1994. “Some judges refuse to close their eyes to perjury,” he wrote, “but they are the rare exception to the rule of blindness, deafness and muteness that guides the vast majority of judges and prosecutors.”

Balko argues that this could be changing, thanks to increasing prevalence of video cameras that catch cops in lies, as happened recently in a Chicago-area case. But until video cameras are everywhere, some cops will probably continue to lie as long as the courts allow them to get away with it.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Jury Awards $36M in Wrongful Conviction Suit to Two NY Men

A jury in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, New York, yesterday awarded John Restivo, 56, and Dennis Halstead, 59, $18 million each—$1 million for every year they spent in prison—following their wrongful convictions in the 1984 rape and murder of 16-year-old Theresa Fusco. All charges had been dismissed in 2003 after DNA testing of evidence, which was conducted over ten years, excluded the men and implicated another, unidentified perpetrator.

After a four-week trial in the federal civil rights lawsuit, the jury concluded that Nassau County lead detective, Joseph Volpe, now deceased, had engaged in official misconduct, including fabrication of hair evidence and withholding of exculpatory evidence in the case. Continue reading

Louisville to Pay Whistleblower Cop $450,000

Louisville Metro Government has agreed to pay $450,000 to former police detective Barron Morgan who says he was demoted to patrol officer on the graveyard shift for trying to help an imprisoned woman prove her innocence on a homicide charge.

” … after Kentucky State Police, who had investigated the 1998 murder, complained that Morgan was assisting the Innocence Project, a Louisville police commander “cursed” him and he was ordered to stop cooperating.”

Read The Courier-Journal story here.

 

New Motion, Old Story: Court Urged to Vacate Conviction in 1982 Murder

A controversial case that imprisoned three men including a former Woonsocket Rhode Island police detective may see a new outcome more than thirty years after the crime. A lengthy motion filed in Superior Court by lawyers for Raymond Tempest Jr., 61, seeks to have his conviction of the 1982 murder of Doreen Picard vacated after DNA testing of a hair found in the victim’s hand proved not to be from Tempest.

For those who have studied wrongful convictions, reading the 76-page motion brings a troubling sense of déjà vu. If the motion is granted, it will be an Continue reading

Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic’: increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Interrogations may be getting worse instead of better

False confessions are a leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States, and many of them are obtained by detectives using the pervasive Reid technique of interrogation. But if you think that law-enforcement officials are beginning to realize the inherent flaws of a system that gets people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, guess again.

In a thought-provoking blog post here, forensic psychologist Karen Franklin says she is actually seeing Reid technique “taken to more and more extreme levels” because of American courts’ “tacit encouragement” of deceit and the watering down of Miranda rights.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • In the UK, bid to overturn arson convictions due to police misconduct
  • In Texas, exoneree Anthony Graves seeks a court of inquiry to examine alleged misconduct by the prosecutor who wrongfully convicted him

Dog Scent Lineups – “The Worst of Junk Science”

pointerIt was just a year ago that we posted about dog scent lineups.  At the time, we called it “one of the junkiest of the junk sciences.”  This opinion is echoed in a law suit filed just this week by a Texas woman, Megan Winfrey.  Ms. Winfrey spent 6 years in prison before her murder conviction, based on a dog scent lineup, was overturned.  Her suit calls dog scent lineups “the worst of junk science.”

Interestingly, the primary defendant in Winfrey’s suit is former Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pickett.  Pickett was identified in our earlier post as being the most infamous and notorious dog handler performing bogus dog scent lineups.  Four other officers, including the San Jacinto County Sheriff, are also named in the suit as being complicit in her wrongful conviction.

You can read the NBC News story about the Winfrey suit here, which contains a link to the actual law suit.

Blatantly Coerced Confession Results in Conviction Reversal

Adrian Thomas was convicted of murdering his 4-month old son Matthew.  The conviction relied in part on a confession that Adrian Thomas made during a 9-hour interrogation during which he was lied to and coercively threatened by police investigators.  Despite the fact that other evidence may indicate guilt, there is no ethical, moral, or logical excuse for these police tactics.

This is a significant decision relative to false confessions.

The story from the Albany, NY Times Union follows:

Court of Appeals reverses Adrian Thomas murder conviction

Posted on February 20, 2014 | By Robert Gavin
 In a potentially landmark ruling, the state’s highest court on Thursday unanimously overturned the murder conviction of Adrian Thomas, who was convicted in 2009 of killing his 4-month-old son in Troy, and blocked his statements from any retrial.

Thomas is serving 25 years to life in Auburn Correctional Facility for second-degree murder.

Thursday’s 7-0 decision followed arguments before the Court of Appeals on Jan. 14 during which attorneys for Thomas, 31, questioned the extent that police lied to the defendant while questioning him about the condition of his son. Thomas was interviewed by Troy police for more than nine hours in what his attorney, Jerome K. Frost, said was a cruel hoax.

Police are allowed to lie to suspects, but not to  the extent that a confession is given involuntarily. To secure Thomas’ confession, a Troy police sergeant told Thomas his confession was needed to save the life of his son, Matthew, whose death was a certainty.

On Thursday, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote that evidence was sufficient to convict Thomas, but that the case must be sent back for retrial because “we conclude that defendant’s inculpating statements were not demonstrably voluntary.”

On Jan. 14, Frost told Court of Appeals that police falsely told his client 67 separate times that they knew the baby’s injuries were accidental — and 140 times that he would not be charged. A key part of Thomas’ appeal was his lawyers’ argument that the trial judge should have allowed an expert on false confessions and police interrogation techniques to testify on his client’s behalf. The judge rejected it.

“The rule is you don’t threaten a person’s vital interests, such as the freedom of his spouse, taking away his children,” Frost had argued.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court upheld Thomas’ conviction in 2012

Study shows how ‘mob journalism’ helps convict the innocent

“The media has won deserved credit for its role in exposing wrongful convictions,” The Crime Report says. “But there are many examples of compliant coverage of prosecutors and law enforcement authorities who rush to convict the innocent on flimsy or phony evidence.”

To prove its point, the web site has published a study by crime journalist David J. Krajicek that focuses on three examples — the 1949 case of Florida’s “Groveland Four”; the conviction of Kirk Bloodsworth in the 1985 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl near Baltimore; and the conviction of Walter McMillian for the 1986 murder of a clerk in Monroeville, Ala.

All three cases are good examples of how the news media frequently follow — and sometimes lead — police and prosecutors down the rabbit hole of bias and tunnel vision. You can read the excellent study here.

NY murder convictions vacated; wrongful convictions scandal called “metastasizing”

Brooklyn (NY) Supreme Court Justice Raymond Guzman vacated the murder convictions of Antonio Yarbough, 39, and Sharrif Wilson, 37, Thursday after the two had served 21 years in prison for a 1992 triple murder—that of Mr. Yarbough’s mother, his twelve-year-old sister, and her friend. The two men, who were 15 and 18 at the time of the murders, have long claimed they did not commit them. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson dismissed the cases against the men.

No physical evidence had connected the two men to the crime. The post-conviction breakthrough came last year when DNA testing of evidence found under the fingernails of Mr. Yarbough’s mother matched DNA from a subsequent rape and murder that occurred in 1999 when Yarbough and Wilson were in prison. Family members cheered as the decision was announced in court. Continue reading

Michigan Man Who Falsely Confessed Charged with Lying to Police

This one is mind boggling.

A mentally ill Lansing, Michigan man, Kosgar Lado, under interrogation by police, momentarily confessed to shooting a man.  Even though he subsequently withdrew that statement later in the interrogation, he was charged with the murder.  After further investigation, the police determined that Lado was not the shooter, and the murder charges were dropped.  But now the prosecutor has charged Lado with felony lying to the police!

Read the LSJ.com story here.

And here’s something else about this story.  The police chief commented to the media that officers went “above and beyond” in confirming that Lado was not the shooter.  B-A-L-O-N-E-Y!  The police have an official duty and an ethical obligation to pursue the facts to determine if their suspects are actually innocent.  I would say they were just doing their job.  The police are normally all too willing to determine if a suspect “might be” guilty, and then turn it over to the prosecutor; and false confessions are one of the major ways they do this.  It’s well known that the mentally ill and the mentally deficient are at high risk of making false confessions.

Thanks to WCB follower Jeremy Praay for forwarding this story.

Anthony Graves, Exonerated Death Row Inmate, to File Grievance Against Former Texas Prosecutor Charles Sebesta

AGraves

Yet another case of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.

Anthony Graves was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a gruesome multiple homicide that occurred in Somerville, TX in August of 1992.  He was ultimately exonerated and released from prison in 2010.

The prosecutor in the case, Charles Sebesta, under intense public pressure for a conviction of Graves with a death sentence, ignored all evidence pointing to his innocence,  pressed ahead, and, as the special prosecutor appointed to handle Graves’ retrial said, “Sebesta manufactured evidence, misled jurors and elicited false testimony.”  The special prosecutor laid the blame for Graves’ wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of Sebesta.

Anthony Graves and the Houston law firm of Bob Bennett & Associates will file a grievance with the Texas Bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel seeking sanctions against Sebesta for his central role in Graves’ wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

Read the case statement of facts here - Statement-of-Facts.

You can see the full press packet here.

And read the Texas Monthly story here.

Editorial PS:  I think it’s tragic that Mr. Graves has to pursue redress through the Bar Association.  He should have remedy available through the courts.

Jerome Morgan Wins New Trial in New Orleans

With the help of the New Orleans Innocence Project, Jerome Morgan, who has spent 19 years in prison for a murder termed the “sweet 16 birthday shooting,”
has been granted a new trial.

The prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in the case, and in Judge Darryl Derbigny’s order he states, “the evidence presented before this court is wrought with deception, manipulation, and coercion by the New Orleans Police Department,” and that “such newly discovered evidence undermines the confidence of the verdict and is fit for a new jury’s judgment.”

Additionally, two prosecution witnesses have recanted, and it was also determined that Jerome had ineffective assistance of counsel.

Read the New Orleans Times-Picayune story here.

Charges Dropped in Conviction Based on Questionable Confessions

Breaking: This morning Cook County (IL) prosecutors reversed themselves and set aside the murder conviction and life sentence of Deon Patrick, 42, who has served more than half his life in prison following his conviction in a double murder case. The accuracy of the convictions of Patrick and others was clouded by questionable confessions.

Patrick was one of eight persons charged with the 1992 murders of Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook. Five were convicted after all made confessions that cross-implicated one another. Continue reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The 2013 holiday season meant a great deal to Brandon Olebar, who, after 10 years of wrongful incarceration, got to enjoy the festivities with his family for the first time in over a decade. Olebar’s release comes thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW).  More….
  • In NY, Robert Jones, who has been imprisoned for 19 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit, hopes to be released after State’s key witness says she was pressured to identify him as the perp.
  • In Massachusetts, doctors believe Brian Peixoto was wrongfully convicted of child murder in an alleged junk medical science case.

Holiday Quick Clicks…

  • clickIn Wisconsin, the governor says he’ll issue no “innocence pardons” because it is too hard to pick and choose who deserves attention and who doesn’t
  • Why is a Texas prosecutor still practicing law after having been found to have committed egregious misconduct to wrongfully convict Anthony Graves?
  • Philly police to implement sweeping interrogation reforms January 1, 2014
  • Virginia man Jonathan Montgomery says exoneration is “best Christmas present ever.
  • Details about the Little Rascals Daycare case in North Carolina, another of the alleged daycare hysteria wrongful conviction cases
  • Nora Wall, wrongfully convicted Irish nun, in talks with Irish government about compensation
  • Connecticut federal judge finds that Scott Lewis was wrongfully convicted as a result of Brady violations

Illinois Inmate Released After 30 Years in Another Coerced Confession Case

Breaking update: According to The National Registry of Exonerations (here), the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against Stanley Wrice today, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Wrice is the most recent of 1,260 exonerations since 1989 now documented on the Registry. 

Cook County Judge Richard Walsh has ordered a new trial for Stanley Wrice, 59, who was released from prison on Wednesday after serving 30 years for a 1982 sexual assault he has always claimed he did not commit. He is one of many inmates, mostly black, who said that they were tortured by Chicago police working under former Lt. Jon Burge.

According to an AP report filed by Don Babwin and M. Spencer Green (here), Wrice, who was sentenced to 100 years in prison, claimed officers beat him in the groin and face with a flashlight and a 20-inch piece of rubber to force his Continue reading