It’s a sad truth, but it’s also reality.
The phenomenon is known as ‘testilying’ behind closed doors. It refers to when police officers take the truth and stretch it out a bit.
Consider the case of Kimberly Thomas, a Bronx native who was accused of placing a Ruger 9-millimeter handgun in a laundry bag directly in front of an officer during a shooting investigation. While this ultimately proved to be false (as a result of video surveillance), Officer Nector Martinez had no issue lying in court. Had it not been for the video footage, Thomas would have unjustly ended up in prison.
Or take the case of Samuel Lee, a Los Angeles Police Officer whose body cam footage shows him picking a baggie of drugs off the ground, putting it inside suspect Ronald Shield’s wallet, then handing the wallet to another officer while indicating the drugs were found inside the wallet.
These are not isolated incidents.
According to The New York Times, “on more than 25 occasions since January 2015, judges or prosecutors determined that a key aspect of a New York City police officer’s testimony was probably untrue. The Times identified these cases — many of which are sealed — through interviews with lawyers, police officers and current and former judges.”
These cases, for example, included false testimony regarding gun whereabouts, breaking/entering into apartments, searches, and witnessing various crimes, drug deals, and arrests.
For those who haven’t had run-ins with the law, the claim that officers would lie on the stand seems counterintuitive. What could possibly be their motive? For many officers, the motivation behind lying is very evident: “to skirt constitutional restrictions against unreasonable searches and stops” (NYT).
For many officers, these constitutional protections just seem like overly-technical barriers to them “getting the bad guys.” Underestimating their own proneness to human error, officers then often feel justified in bending the truth to get the outcome they think is right.
This mindset may be particularly problematic for someone if they ever get caught on the radar of a particular officer, who may have a “gut” instinct that the person is engaging in criminal behavior, but is unable to prove it through lawful investigation techniques. This could explain the apparent planting of drugs by Officer Lee.
It’s no question that with more police officers ‘testilying’, innocent people are unjustly thrown into jail. On the flip side, as judges view officers as less credible, guilty people will be acquitted when they shouldn’t be.
Yes, you bet we are in a predicament.
Sure, we’ve caught a handful of police officers providing false testimony in a court of law, but it seems naïve to think we’ve even come close to uncovering the amount of times officers have ‘testilied’ without being discovered.
Still “the cases identified by The Times reveal an entrenched perjury problem several decades in the making that shows little sign of fading.”
Luckily, we are in an age of technology where the heavy presence of things like cameras and cell phones will greatly reduce the amount of times officers lie in court. Ultimately, it’s harder for cop to lie nowadays. It seems increasingly rare that there are enforcement encounters (in today’s day and age) where there isn’t instant video footage of the action. Nonetheless, even if a camera exposes a lie, it doesn’t always undo the wreckage that ensued prior to the lie coming to light. There are still plenty of agencies that don’t use body cameras and there’s plenty of lies without any strong evidence to challenge them.
Let’s hope that this changes in the near future.