Virginia Beach Police used forged documents in interrogations
An investigation by the Virginia attorney general’s office revealed that Virginia Beach Police used forged documents purporting to be from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to get confessions or cooperation during interrogations on at least five occasions from 2016 until 2020.
The practice was discovered last spring after an assistant commonwealth’s attorney requested DFS to provide a certified copy of a forged document that DFS never created or knew about.
“This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” Attorney General Mark Herring said today. “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. 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.”
During its investigation, Herring’s Office of Civil Rights discovered that, on at least five occasions, fraudulent certificates of analysis purporting to be from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science were created as supposed evidence of a suspect’s guilt in an attempt to secure confessions, cooperation, or convictions.
These forged documents generally purported to show that a suspect’s DNA was found in connection with a crime, and included a seal, letterhead, contact information, and on two occasions the signature of a fictitious DFS employee. In at least one instance, a forged document was presented to a court as evidence.
Using the authority Herring secured to investigate unconstitutional or unlawful patterns or practices by Virginia law enforcement agencies, the Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation and subsequently proposed a “conciliation agreement” to stop the practice and enact important policy reforms. The conciliation agreement was agreed to by Virginia Beach City Council on Tuesday and is now in effect.
Among the changes and reforms required by the agreement:
- 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.
The Office of Civil Rights will also provide appropriate notice to the identified individuals who were interrogated with forged documents that the practice was used in their case and that the Virginia Beach Police Department has since ended its use of the tactic.
If any additional uses of forged documents are discovered, OCR expects that Virginia Beach Police will provide notice to OCR and any affected individuals.
The terms of the agreement will remain in effect for at least two years, and if Virginia Beach Police fails to comply with any of the terms of the agreement, the Office of Civil Rights can seek judicial enforcement.