Grits for Breakfast points us to this important and disturbing story published in the L.A. Times a few days ago. It is a report on the murder of 16-year old Martha Puebla, whose name the police used while fabricating an identification.
They were trying to get her boyfriend for an unrelated murder and during their interrogation of him, they showed him a photo array (already a source of many problems) where they forged a circle around his picture with Martha’s initials and an “identification” beneath it.
To drive home his point, [police officer] Pinner laid down a “six-pack” — an array of mug shots that detectives often show to witnesses or victims of crimes. On it, [suspect] Ledesma’s photo was circled, and the initials “M.P.” were written below it. “Those is the guy that shot my friends boyfriend” was scrawled along the margin, followed by Puebla’s signature.
“I don’t even know a Martha,” Ledesma lied.
Police deceit during investigations and interrogations has long been tolerated (see, e.g. Illinios v. Perkins), but this may be one of those instances of the disconnect between theory and reality. In this case, it lead to Puebla’s death:
The next night, Ledesma reached for a pay phone outside his cell. “Cokester,” he said into the receiver, calling his friend Javier Covarrubias by one of his gang monikers, “do you know the slut that lives there by . . . my house? Her name starts with an M . . . I need her to disappear. She is dropping dimes.”
To the gang, Puebla was a snitch and needed to be dealt with.
“Uh huh, like that,” Ledesma told Covarrubias, using a mix of Spanish and English. “But [keep a] low-pro[file]. ..Stay on your toes, homie. And don’t get caught.”
Of course, this is also a product of the anti-snitching culture that has garnered much attention. But the fact remains that as a result of the deceit on the part of these law enforcement officers, a young girl is dead.
Cases like Illinois above have given cops free reign of the interrogation room – everyone’s heard of good cop, bad cop – and license to lie about almost anything, resulting in false confessions.
While I recognize the arguments supporting lying to suspects during interrogations, there has to be some sort of oversight and limits placed on the extent of permissible deceit. Certainly, endangering the life of someone who is innocent and whom the cops should know would be in danger of losing his/her life as a result of their lie should be outside those limits.
The responsibility of law enforcement is to protect citizens and ensure their safety, not to endanger them while engaged in a tunnel-visioned pursuit of “catching a criminal”.
So what is the line? When is deceit okay, if at all? Should it hinge on waiver of Miranda rights? I’ll expound on those thoughts in a later post.