VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Attorney General Mark R. Herring's Office of Civil Rights announced Wednesday that it secured an enforceable set of policy changes from the Virginia Beach Police Department after an investigation revealed that police used forged documents during several interrogations.
"The badge is supposed to be a symbol of trust," News 3 Crime Analyst and retired law enforcement officer, Rick James, said. "This investigation, and the findings under this investigation, will take a hit on the Virginia Beach Police Department public trust."
According to the OCR, police used documents purported to be from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to get confessions or cooperation on at least five occasions from March 2016 to February 2020. The practice was discovered in April 2021 after an assistant commonwealth's attorney requested a certified copy of a forged document from the DFS.
Herring's office reported that on the five occasions, fraudulent certificates of analysis purporting to be from the DFS were created as supposed evidence of a suspect's guilt. 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 DFS employee.
In at least one case, a forged document was presented to a court as evidence.
“This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” Herring said. “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.”
The Virginia Beach City Council agreed to the following changes and reforms as part of a conciliation agreement Tuesday, January 11:
- The 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 OCR will also alert the people interrogated with forged documents that the practice was used in their case.
The terms of the agreement will remain in effect for at least two years, and if the VBPD fails to comply with any of the terms of the agreement, the OCR can seek judicial enforcement.
Virginia Beach Police Department responded to Wednesday's announcement of the department using forged documents allegedly during interrogations. The department released the following statement:
The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) wishes to clarify the facts concerning the Conciliation Agreement that was signed today between the City and the Office of the Attorney General. On April 29, 2021, Police Chief Paul Neudigate was notified by the Virginia Department of Forensic Services and the Secretary of Public Safety regarding VBPD’s potential use of a replica Department of Forensic Science Certificate of Analysis during a criminal investigation.
VBPD immediately opened an inquiry which determined that this practice had occurred. Two days after notification, Chief Neudigate issued a department-wide directive on May 01, 2021, prohibiting any further uses of inauthentic replica documents and initiated an internal investigation into the circumstances to determine the scope and frequency. On May 12, 2021, Chief Neudigate was notified of a concurrent investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights.
As the conciliation agreement itself acknowledges:
• Before VBPD even became aware of the Attorney General’s inquiry, Chief Neudigate issued a directive mandating the department cease the use of any replica Department of Forensic Science Certificates of Analysis.
• VBPD began their own internal investigation, reviewing 9600 criminal cases and found a total of five instances over a five-year period from 2016-2020 where inauthentic replica certificates were used.
• The Attorney General found no reason to believe the use of replica certificates extended any further than those five instances nor any reason to believe that the practice remains ongoing.
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 prohibition regarding any further use of this technique had been codified in all of our binding documents prior to the signing of the agreement.