California Police Department Can't Keep It Real; Deploys Fake Press Releases And Fake Affidavits

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.


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 3:41am

    How DARE you write a Judges name on that!

    Not angry at the flat out lying.
    Not angry at the fake documents applying pressure on a target to just give up all hope.

    But not angry enough to sanction this outrageous behavior.

    Trying to pretend that an innocent person locked in a room and presented with tons of fake evidence won't decide that trying to get a plea is easier than fighting off the system that's already weighted against them?
    That someone innocent won't just fold and believe that the officers are just letting them know what they have so the target can make an easy choice to hurry this along.

    And they still can't figure out why people trust cops and the legal system less and less.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 23 Mar 2017 @ 3:43am

    Interesting...

    > which forbid knowingly publishing "fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading communications."

    [...]

    > “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.”

    It appears that he thinks it is Nixle's policy not to knowingly publish fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading communications.

    But those are terms of service exactly because it is the _user's_ knowledge about fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading communcations making it the user's job not to publish them.

    He is confusing this with a pledge of Nixle.

    With that kind of confusion about job descriptions, I consider it likely that this police station's fraud department diligently and painstakingly spends its time committing fraud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 23 Mar 2017 @ 4:54am

    Deliberately telling lies while still demanding full trust from the public.
    No wonder they can only attract a certain type of person to join them...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 23 Mar 2017 @ 5:08am

    Isn't knowingly violating the terms of service of a computer system a CFAA violation? His use is now "unauthorized".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 5:46am

      Re:

      Past court cases say yes.
      Lock him up.

      They are amateurs, this type of yellow journalism has been perfected at Fox.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 5:34am

    With the number of times that police have been caught framing suspects, planting evidence, losing evidence, withholding exculpatory evidence, etc, the judges lack of sanctions is inexcusable.
    The day that the courts loudly proclaimed that all cops could lie their asses off with impunity, is the day that the judiciary sacrificed their own credibility and honour on the altar of the LEOs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SirWired (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 5:43am

    I have a hard time getting angry about that first one...

    I have a hard time getting angry about a fake press release in an attempt to get a gang hit called off; in fact, I applaud the creativity involved here. Unless the Does themselves are upset about this plan (which I doubt), I don't really care if the press feels butt-hurt.

    And I'm not sure how the subsequent things mentioned in this article are connected, other than having to do with the same police department.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 5:50am

      Re: I have a hard time getting angry about that first one...

      I find your lack of imagination disturbing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      peter, 23 Mar 2017 @ 6:04am

      Re: I have a hard time getting angry about that first one...

      Yep. Godda agree on this one.

      Instead of getting all butt-hurt, perhaps the press would do better asking what they should be doing by confirming stores before breathlessly hitting the publish button.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 6:17am

    Imagine this

    You're falsely accused of a crime.

    You know you are innocent.

    The police produce a mountain of (false) evidence that they (falsely) claim will be used in court.

    You confess and take a plea deal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Del Varner, 23 Mar 2017 @ 6:59am

      Exactly

      Where you cannot lie to police without getting slapped with an obstruction of justice charge (at least on the federal level), the police can lie through their teeth to you. This is why you should never talk to police w/o a lawyer present.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2017 @ 3:18am

        Re: Exactly

        "...you cannot lie to police..."

        You can't even make an unintentionally mistaken statement or have a cop misremember something you said. Either of those cases is treated as making false statements.

        Practice the following statement until it is automatic: On advice of counsel, I do not answer questions or consent to searches.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OA (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 6:56am

    I think I've seen that tactic on TV somewhere. Brilliant detective so special that rules and ethics don't apply. Don't worry, though, he gets results and that's all that ever matters. Simple. Myopic. Results.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 7:39am

    This is an ancient tactic for police to lie in order to extract a confession out of a suspect. It's worth noting that in the infamous Salem Witch Trials, none of the people who (falsely) confessed to being witches and pointed fingers at "accomplices" were put to death.

    It's not much different today. For anyone not filthy rich, the standard choice is either (falsely) plead guilty in return for a very light sentence, or basically play a kind of Russian Roulette with the court -- but this version loads five bullets out of six.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 7:47am

    Now imagine if there were active fake news laws... Oh wait, it would be ok because blue lives matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 7:47am

    Get off your high fucking horse. You mean to tell me that if your life was at risk, you were targeted for execution, you would be against a cop sending out a fake press release to keep you safe? Really?

    Stop living in your web life and think about real life.

    And if you type from your safe keyboard that you wouldn't want the police lying to keep you alive, you are either delusional or lying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 7:57am

      Re:

      That being said, talking to cops without a lawyer is stupid. Really stupid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 8:17am

        Re: Re:

        but not responding when a cop is screaming "Do you have any weapons" over and over, will eventually be taken as a "yes+" answer, assuming you can tolerate the pain of someone screaming point-blank in your ear.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 8:21am

      Re:

      Knowingly lying to keep two people alive is generally for the good, I'd say, the problem is that even after it's done it's job they're still not interested in correcting the lie, and that combined with the 'lying to suspects to get plea confessions' sends the message of 'The cops can and will lie to you if they think it serves a purpose.'

      Having the police be known liars is kind of a problem when it comes to building and maintaining trust from the public, as it means the public can't trust a single thing they say as any of it could be a lie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 11:24am

      Re:

      What is that horse you are riding? It looks to be quite proud. Yes, a proud high horse with preconceived notions and ready bias at hand.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 7:54am

    IANAL...

    But I would certainly talk to a lawyer about civil action based on the14th Amendement, 18 U.S. Code § 242, undue influence (coercion), abuse of process, and fraud among others.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 1:20pm

      Re: IANAL...

      I would also talk to a lawyer about credibility questions for any and every case that is brought to trial under this police department. Having the word of the officers questioned for the next couple decades over stupid decisions by its current leadership is fair and just.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 8:10am

    It's a mystery

    "Yeah we lie, fairly often at that. If that's what it takes to get people to accept a plea deal that's just part of the job. Besides, the DA is okay with it, and while a single judge may be willing to toss some evidence so long as the judge in the case doesn't learn about it we're golden most of the time.

    Now if we can just figure out why the public doesn't trust us... it's probably those extremists who keep bringing up anomalies of perfectly understandable mistakes and errors that other cops do. Yeah, that's gotta be it."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 8:15am

    just another example of what the USA has turned into and how the now Police State can do whatever it likes, at whose ever expense, while at the same time preventing everyone else from knowing or posting the truth, over anything and anyone! what a society we have developed/a;;owed to be developed for ourselves!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 9:35am

    There are two different things the police did, and they aren't really on the same level.

    Lying to the press? Kinda dumb to get the press to hate you, but I have no problem with that being legal, even if I believe it shouldn't be done.

    "SMPD Chief Martin told the Sun that in his 40 years of working in law enforcement this is his first instance of using a ruse press release in this way, and it’s the first time the SMPD has issued one."

    Now that he's established his department as willing to lie to the press, how can anyone believe him when he says this? Every time they quote the police department from now on, the papers should add the words "known liars".

    But I have a huge problem with the other thing, from a few years ago. Presenting false court documents to defendants? It's not enough to merely suppress the confession. The people responsible should be going to prison themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 11:28am

    We have had fake news for some time, but now we have fake laws too?

    I suppose it is not all that surprising, we have a fake president along with fake cabinet and many fake congress critterz - so why not fake laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Strebzilla, 23 Mar 2017 @ 12:43pm

    Reminds me of this scene from The Wire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN7pkFNEg5c

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 23 Mar 2017 @ 1:17pm

    CFAA anyone?

    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."

    Isn't this a violation of the CFAA?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2017 @ 1:52pm

    Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. No, don't do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 24 Mar 2017 @ 8:32am

    CFAA

    Isn't this a CFAA violation? They went against the TOS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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