from the sooner-or-later,-your-word-means-nothing dept
The Santa Maria (CA) Police Department -- like the FBI -- is in the fake news business. Last February, it issued a bogus press release via online service Nixle, falsely stating it had apprehended two suspects. This was picked up by local news sources and redistributed. It wasn't until until December that the ruse was uncovered. The Sun -- which hadn't released a story on the bogus press release -- discovered this fact in a pile of court documents. (h/t Dave Maass)
Police allege in the court documents that members of the local MS-13 gang planned to kill the two men, referred to in court documents as John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2. Police had gleaned this information from telephone surveillance on several suspects in the case, according to the documents. The police acted by putting out the false press release, expecting local news media to report the fake story and the MS-13 gang members to stop pursuing the John Does.
The police chief confirmed the PD had issued the fake press release knowingly. He also remained unapologetic, stating that misleading journalists served a greater good: keeping two gang targets alive. He has yet to remove the bogus press release from Nixle, even though it violates the service's terms, which forbid knowingly publishing "fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading communications."
[S]anta Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin wasn’t aware what the terms of service were or that they existed when initially asked by the Sun. At first, Martin said he’d more than likely take the press release down, but then he changed his mind.
“I don’t have any plans to take it down,” Martin said, adding that he has yet to be notified by Nixle. “If it violates their policy then it’s Nixle’s policy to contact us.”
The department has also refused to apologize to the news services it misled, most of which rightly feel this diminishes the public's trust in its public servants.
According to Chief Martin, it was a "moral and ethical" decision to lie to the public. He also says this is the first time in his 40 years as a cop he's seen this sort of thing done. Of course, it's now much more difficult to take this assertion at face value, especially when Martin's refusing to remove fake news from a site after it's already served its purpose.
This may be the first time the Santa Maria PD has deceived the press, but it's certainly not the first time it's deployed fake "facts" as a means to an end. The Sun reported earlier the PD had -- on multiple occasions -- presented fake sworn affidavits and statements to criminal suspects in hopes of provoking confessions or securing plea bargains.
Police reports obtained by the Sun verified [Jesus] Quevedo’s claims, showing SMPD Gang Task Force officers had indeed presented Quevedo with a search warrant issued by Judge Beebe on April 15, with a false document included.
“I had previously prepared a ruse affidavit,” [Detective David] Cohen wrote in his report in Quevedo’s case. “The ruse affidavit contained details of two crimes for which Quevedo was being investigated. Many of the details were true, and many were fabricated.”
The ruse highlights several actual unsolved robberies, including a home invasion in Santa Ynez, where an eyewitness describes a man matching Quevedo’s characteristics fleeing the scene. A mugshot of a smiling Quevedo is circled with a “100%” marked over his name, indicating the victim of the invasion also had positively identified Quevedo as the robber.
Other fabrications include an anonymous neighbor seeing a car matching Quevedo’s parked outside the scene of one of the robberies, as well as statements from confidential citizens alleging Quevedo’s strong ties to the Mexican Mafia.
Other convicts have contacted The Sun claiming to have been subjected to the same ruse. Those claims are probably as trustworthy as the police chief's, but evidence appears to show this ruse has not only been used more than once, but that the District Attorney's office feels it's a perfectly legal strategy.
Asked to comment, the Santa Maria Police Department referred all questions regarding Quevedo’s case—and the ruse tactic in general—to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Foley and Deputy District Attorney Bramsen. Bramsen did not return phone calls from the Sun, though Foley confirmed Cohen had met with Bramsen before employing the ruse.
“Our office was consulted by the police department on this particular ruse,” Foley said. “The police did in fact say, ‘Would this be a legal ruse?’ and [Bramsen] researched it and felt, based on her legal research, it was a legal ruse.”
The DA's office clarified it had simply said the fake affidavit plan was legally in the clear, but it had never told the PD to follow through with it… as if there were really any distance between those two stances. The office maintains this is all part of its "ethical" prosecution of lawbreakers.
It also said, ridiculously, that attempting to trick people into confessions or plea agreements with fake witness statements and fake evidence isn't actually an attempt to trick people into confessions or plea agreements.
In a written opposition to the motion, the DA argued there was nothing improper about the use of the ruse affidavit in Quevedo’s case, because prosecutors and police never intended the document to be used in court, either to obtain a search warrant or to coerce a false confession.
Ah. The PD was only interested in coercing a true confession. I guess that makes it ok.
Or not. The judge presiding over Quevado's case didn't find it quite as legally-acceptable as the DA did.
While the judge stopped short of issuing any sanctions against Cohen, Parker, or the DA’s office, she ruled all evidence obtained through the use of the ruse affidavit would be inadmissible in Quevedo’s case.
“The police can do a lot of things,” she said. “But when they use a false affidavit, intending for it to be believed as true, with the judiciary’s signature, that conduct cannot be tolerated.”
If the PD feels the ends justify the deceptive means, how exactly does it justify making its own evidence inadmissible? If the "end" is to get criminals off the street, how does undercutting the prosecution achieve that end?
The public isn't just being deceived by fake press releases. It's being deceived about the effectiveness of its law enforcement agencies, who are willing to damage their own cases in their hurry to file charges and commence prosecutions.