It’s an age-old problem in criminal justice. The New York Times found more than 25 cases since January 2015 in which offers lied about things like the whereabouts of guns, illegal searches and episodes that they did not really witness or may not have happened at all.
False testimony by police officers is a problem so old and persistent that the criminal justice system sometimes responds with little more than a shrug, the New York Times reports. “Behind closed doors, we call it testilying,” said New York City police officer, Pedro Serrano, echoing a word that officers coined at least 25 years ago. “You take the truth and stretch it out a little bit.” The Times reports that 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 newspaper identified the cases — many of which are sealed — through interviews with lawyers, police officers and current and former judges. Officers have lied about the whereabouts of guns, putting them in suspects’ hands or waistbands when they were actually hidden out of sight. They have barged into apartments to search them, only to testify otherwise later. They have given firsthand accounts of crimes or arrests that they did not in fact witness. They have falsely claimed to have watched drug deals happen, only to later recant or be shown to have lied.
No detail is too minor to embellish. “Clenched fists” is how a Brooklyn officer described the hands of a man he claimed had angrily approached him and started screaming and yelling. It was an encounter prosecutors later determined never occurred. Another officer accused a driver in a trial of recklessly crossing the double-yellow line on a stretch of road that had no double-yellow line. In many instances, the motive for lying was readily apparent: to skirt constitutional restrictions against unreasonable searches and stops. In other cases, the falsehoods appear aimed at convicting people with trumped-up evidence. In still others, the motive is not easy to discern.