VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate is quick to admit officers went too far in attempting to get cooperation in cases by using fake documents.
"Our gut reaction is we went too far on this one," Neudigate told News 3 in an interview on Thursday afternoon.
Attorney General Mark Herring announced Wednesday his office found five instances when police used fake documents in order to get cooperation or confessions in criminal cases between 2016 and 2020.
News 3 found the details of one case in the courthouse. A man named Christian Zeigler faces a charge of custodial indecent liberties and is set to plead guilty in February, according to court records.
Early on in the investigation, court records show that police attempted to get a confession from Zeigler by making it seem like they had a report from the Department of Forensic Science that said DNA evidence linked him to the case.
The document has the Seal of Virginia and a signature. The problem - it was all fake. A prosecutor mistakenly entered the report into evidence before recognizing it wasn't real. At the top, the court document now states, "Ruse - not a true certificate of analysis."
"I think using that certificate is not something we're comfortable with as an organization. It's not something our community is going to be comfortable with," Neudigate said.
Herring said this practice is "potentially unconstitutional." The Virginia Beach Police Department says there is case law that found this to be constitutional, but the chief does agree this isn't a tactic police should use.
Police officers are allowed to use deception.
"We know that these are very challenging many times. In interviews, people are not exactly forthcoming, so it is a legally allowed practice," said Neudigate.
In this case, he doesn't think police should be using fake documents like this.
"I definitely think that any time we took someone else's document and used it for our own benefit that crossed the line," he said.
Neudigate says the instances happened before he became chief. He was notified in April 2021 about the use of fake documents and within two days ended the practice.
The chief recognizes the incident has eroded some trust from the community, but says the practice was not widespread and has ended.
"I think it's put a chink in our public perception," he said.
He says the practice is not allowed and says an officer would face discipline if he or she did this in the future.
"If this occurred today, I think there would be a totally different outcome. To make sure that that is the direction, we've put in policies and procedures to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said. "It's not going to happen under the watch of this new administration."
A spokesperson for the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office said the use of these documents did not wind up having an impact on the prosecution of the cases.
The Virginia Beach NAACP issued the following statement on VBPD's use of the falsified reports Thursday night:
The Virginia Beach NAACP Branch is appalled and livid at the Attorney General’s report that the Virginia Beach Police department forged documents that linked people’s DNA to a crime to get them to confess or cooperate with investigators.
Although the report listed that the acts were not illegal, the actions certainly lack integrity and fall short of this branch’s expectations of how the City’s police department should conduct investigations.
The premeditated way the police officers acquired letterhead from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to fraudulently and maliciously coerce individuals to admit; certainly under duress, guilt for a crime they may not have committed is immoral and SHOULD be illegal. Please name me any other occupation where this is acceptable except maybe in a war zone.
And there is a war going on within this city. The war of the city’s 450,000+ citizens to sustain their life and liberties despite an active police department who seems to be more emboldened to operate outside of the bounds of decency and straddle the lines of legality to avoid conducting their job in a reputable manner.