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How a cop’s career can be undone with a single falsification

Here’s a real-world example of what can happen when it becomes known that a cop falsified either a report or testimony

A police officer’s career can be undone with just a single falsification. Proof of this can be found in a case I was recently made aware of — it is a cautionary tale that I hope officers can use as a guidepost to ensure a long and successful police career.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a local TV reporter down here in Florida — his channel was doing as story on a neighboring agency a few cities away from where I reside. One of their narcotics officers was accused of falsifying a police report to mask and/or hide his source on an arrest. He reportedly claimed that the information came from an anonymous source rather than disclose that it came from an unregistered confidential informant.

Apparently he compounded that falsification to the ADA rather than let their office determine if it was sufficient to justify the arrest or if perhaps an on-camera hearing with the CI was needed. Basically, the TV station claimed the officer lied about how and from whom he got the info. The local media was playing the issue up and really taking this officer — and by extension, the agency — to task.

Honesty and Integrity
In my capacity as a police consultant, I’m frequently contacted by media outlets about law enforcement issues that are considered “hot” topics. This reporter asked me a hypothetical question on how an officer’s credibility might be affected — both in past or future trials — when it becomes known that he or she falsified either a report or testimony. I told that reporter that one of the only things we as law enforcement officers have going for us is our honesty and integrity.

I further opined that if the allegations were true, the DA’s office might be reluctant to prosecute any pending drug arrests made by this officer where the basis of the arrest was an anonymous source and that any past cases might also be in jeopardy where this officer signed a probable cause statement or search warrant affidavit where the PC was based on info from an anonymous source.

Later that week, the police chief of that other agency called me to complain about how annoyed he was with my interview. After explaining to him that I was answering a hypothetical question as a police/media consultant — and was in no way indicting or convicting his officer — he seemed satisfied.

In fact, I informed the chief that I specifically told the reporter that I did not want to know the name of the officer or even the agency involved, and was only informing them on how an officer’s — any officer’s — credibility might be affected when it becomes known to the local prosecutors, the community, or the other officers in the department that one of their own may have falsified a report or testimony.

Speaking From Experience
Back when I was a on the job in upstate New York, our agency was involved in a rather widespread investigation of our local mob. This was really a joint investigation by our agency, several surrounding police agencies, the feds, as well as the county sheriff’s office. Ego being what it was, everyone wanted the “big collar.”

My partner and I made a couple of nice pinches — we even won a nice DA’s Office Award for homicide and bombing arrests. Not to be outdone, the local SO went out and made an arrest of several other bad guys for conspiracy to commit murder, a Class A felony in New York State.

The arrest was based on a mob snitch’s claim that a meeting of four high-ranking capos was held a few years back where an order was given to whack a rival mob underboss. Indeed, the underboss was blown up when he started his car outside a local nightclub. The case had remained unsolved up to that time.

The Assistant U.S. Attorney and the feds — after reviewing the SO’s case — decided to pass on prosecuting, but told the local DA to go ahead with it if they wanted. Rumor has it the feebs knew something wasn’t right.

When it came time to discuss pre-trial strategy, the ADA prosecuting the case said he needed some independent corroboration of this alleged meeting where the “plan” to whack one of the rival mob guys was hatched — they couldn’t go with just the snitch’s testimony.

Lo and behold, a SO detective reported that he found an old shoebox in his basement that contained notes of a stakeout conducted years earlier at a mob guys mother’s house by he and his boss (a lieutenant). You can’t make this stuff up — a shoebox in a basement.

According to the snitch, the meeting was reportedly held in one of the mob guy’s mother’s kitchen. The dick and his LT told the ADA that they took very copious notes during this “surveillance” and copied down vehicle descriptions and names of the four guys as they drove up.

Case made, right?

Several other detectives assigned to this investigation began to question whether this stakeout ever actually occurred. In fact, it became common knowledge among police circles that this detective and his boss made this surveillance story up. “The ends justify the means” as the old saying goes.

Based on these rumors, the DA’s office and the State Police began a little investigation of their own. The house where the surveillance allegedly occurred was not even listed in the mother’s name when the stakeout presumably occurred — there was no way the two could have known where she lived.

The “yellowed” notes were sent to the State Police lab and the ink was found to be just weeks old and couldn’t have been written when the two said they were. The paper was reportedly heated in an oven to “age” it.

When their story began to unfold, the detective flipped on his boss who eventually pled out and got sentenced to hard time. The detective took a misdemeanor plea and was fired. To add insult to injury, the case against the mob guys was dismissed.

The moral of the story is that one of the only things we as law enforcement have going for us is our integrity and honesty. If we compromise on these two virtues, we’re no better than the bad guys we’re trying to put away.

Dave Grossi is a retired police lieutenant from upstate New York now residing in southwest Florida. A graduate of the State University of New York, Dave has served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics investigator, detective, sergeant, and lieutenant. For 12 years, Dave was the lead instructor for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. He has instructor credentials in virtually every force discipline and has testified both in the United States and abroad as an expert witness in use of force cases. He is a combat veteran of Vietnam, and a member of the Force Science Research Center.