AG Herring: Virginia Beach police forged documents to secure confessions in criminal interrogations

Virginia News

Mark Herring (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Beach police used forged documents to get confessions or cooperation from people during at least five criminal interrogations from 2016 to 2020, according to Attorney General Mark Herring.

An investigation by Herring’s Office of Civil Rights found the city’s police department used fake documents that authorities claimed were from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to secure convictions, confessions or cooperation from people on at least five different occasions from March 2016 to February 2020.

The probe revealed that the fraudulent forensic reports were generally used to show that a person’s DNA was found in connection with a crime under investigation. In at least one occasion, a forged report was presented as evidence in court, according to Herring’s office.

“This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” Herring said in a statement. “It also abused the good name and reputation of the Commonwealth’s hard-working forensic scientists and professionals who work hard to provide accurate, solid evidence in support of our law enforcement agencies.”

In a release, Herring announced the department has agreed to end the practice and implement policy changes aimed at preventing such practices from taking place. Here are the changes that Herring’s office said the department has agreed to follow moving forward:

  • Virginia Beach Police Department must issue a Department General Order mandating that all sworn personnel immediately discontinue the use of any inauthentic certificates of analysis, DFS letterhead, or templates used to make inauthentic documents, and prohibiting personnel from making or using any inauthentic or altered certificates, letterhead, or formats of any department outside the agency. Virginia Beach Police has already issued this order as General Order 6.03.
  • All sworn personnel assigned to the Detective Bureau must sign an acknowledgment of receipt and commitment to abiding by the General Order.
  • The Department will ensure that all in-service training of sworn personnel regarding interrogations includes training on the prohibition against use of forged documents.
  • The Department must immediately investigate any alleged use of forged documents and report the findings to OCR within five days of its conclusion.
  •  The Department must seek OCR approval for any alterations to the relevant portion of the General Order.

Virginia Beach police shared a statement Thursday saying they wanted to clarify facts about the agreement with the AG’s office. In it, police said chief Paul Neudigate opened an internal investigation and directed the department to end “any further uses of inauthentic replica documents” on May 1, 2021, two days after being alerted by the Virginia Department of Forensic Services and the Secretary of Public Safety of the claims.

“Though this practice during interrogations has consistently been found to be constitutional by both the Virginia Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, the VBPD took immediate and proactive steps to address this very limited interrogation technique which they felt, though legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects of their Police Department,” the department wrote.

The Virginia Beach Police Department noted the agreement with the AG’s office confirms their own review found only five instances where the department used the fake certificates from 2016-2020. The department also pointed out in their statement that Herring found no reason to believe there were more to uncover.

According to the release from Herring’s office, the terms of the agreement with the department will remain in effect for at least two years. If Virginia Beach police fail to comply with the agreement, the Office of Civil Rights could seek judicial enforcement.

“While I appreciate that Virginia Beach Police put an end to this practice and cooperated with our investigation, this is clearly a tactic that should never have been used,” Herring continued.

UPDATE: Information from the Virginia Beach Police Department’s statement, which was shared after publication, has been added.

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