It happens so much, it’s got a name: Testilying. Testilying is what happens when police officers lie to citizens during traffic stops, detainment, or in the interrogation room in order to trick a person into doing what they want. In 2018, the NY Times tackled several incidents of Testilying and discovered it even happens in the court room—thus the term. While lying in the court room is certainly the most egregious of cases, the following incident of cops lying shows just how dangerous, even deadly, it can be.
In June of 2018, a Seattle man had been accused of leaving the scene of a minor accident in which no injuries were reported. Leaving the scene of an accident without injuries before police arrive is a bad idea, but it’s hardly the work of a criminal mastermind. Nevertheless, two police officers were dispatched to the address associated with the man’s license plate.
“It’s a lie, but it’s fun,” an unnamed Seattle cop told his partner on body camera footage as they investigated the misdemeanor traffic citation. Instead of investigating the incident, however, this officer had a plan to lie in an attempt to catch the man.
The cop was going to lie and claim this man severely injured a woman during the crash and that she was in critical condition. When the officers approached the house, they were told by the woman who lived in the home that the man did not live there and had used her address to register his car. She told police that she would get them his phone number, however.
As the Seattle Times reports:
The officer who had devised the ruse he described as fun then set it in motion, unleashing events that spiraled into unforeseen tragedy when the man took his own life days later. Now, a police watchdog has found that the officer’s action “shocked the conscience” and contributed to the man’s death.
The two officers had not been involved in investigating the collision, which occurred in another precinct and involved several vehicles. They were asked to go the home after the address was tied to the fleeing driver’s vehicle. They were told no one was injured, which made the hit-and-run a misdemeanor.
But as the woman searched her phone for the suspect’s number, the officer with the ruse plan told her they were looking for the man because he was involved in a hit-and-run that left a woman in critical condition. A summary report on the 2018 incident was recently released by the Police Department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
Building the web of lies even thicker, the officer then told her that the non-existent woman he hit “might not survive.” According to the OPA investigation, this made the woman visibly distraught, which was evident on the body camera.
After spinning such a heinous lie, the cops left and the woman frantically called the hit and run suspect to tell him what they told her. At first, according to the investigation, the man knew the accident was nothing but a tiny fender bender and didn’t believe that anyone could’ve been injured. However, due to the officer’s lie, thoughts started racing through the man’s head causing him to think that he may have run over a pedestrian.
As the Times reports:
He became increasingly despondent over the possibility he had killed someone, the woman told the OPA. She said he had been a heroin addict for nearly 20 years and had prior legal troubles.
Shortly after, the man died by suicide, according to the OPA report.
An investigation into the man’s death was launched and Andrew Myerberg, the OPA’s civilian director, determined that the cop’s lie was, at least in part, the cause of the man’s suicide. Myerberg concluded that the officer’s creation of such a horrid lie in order to secure a traffic citation “shocked the conscience.”
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best agreed and upheld the findings of the OPA. She then suspended the officer for six days with no pay but refused to release the disciplinary action report explaining her rationale for the suspension.
To be clear, the lie was not the problem, according to the OPA — because police are allowed to lie. The problem was the nature of the lie. Myerberg recommended that the department provide training on future lies, including “when they are appropriate and when they shock fundamental fairness,” according to the Times.
On Thursday, the department finally released a statement after the Times’ investigation, again, not calling out the act of lying, but the nature of the lie.
“Chief Best agreed with OPA’s findings and disciplined a Seattle Police Officer with six days off without pay for using a ruse during a hit-and-run criminal investigation. The officer’s actions did not meet SPD’s standards of acceptable use of discretion and were not consistent with the standards of professionalism or training.”
While this scenario may sound shocking, the act of police lying is even protected under court precedent. In Frazier v. Cupp, 394 U.S. 731 (1969), the Supreme Court affirmed that cops can lie to obtain information and help their cases.
Below is a list from an attorney in San Diego of just some of the ways police can and will lie to you to get a conviction.
Police Can Lie About Having Physical Evidence
“We have your fingerprints.”
“We have your DNA.”
Police can trick you into giving up your DNA
“Would you like something to drink?”
Police can give fake tests to “prove you’re guilty”
“You failed the polygraph.”
“You failed a chemical test.”
Police may lie about having eyewitnesses
“An eyewitness identified you leaving the scene.
Police can lie about recording your conversation
“I’m turning the recorder off, this is just between you and me.”
“This is off the record.”
The police will try to imply that your refusal to cooperate will be damaging to your case.
“We know what happened, but if you obstruct our investigation the DA will be a lot tougher on you.”
Police can lie about what will happen to other people.
“Your friend will spend their life in jail if you don’t tell us what happened.”
They will lie about wanting to help you out.
“We know what happened, best thing for you is to tell us how write it up in your favor and we will help you out.”
“We have enough evidence to charge you – this is your only opportunity to tell your story.”
Police may ignore your request for a lawyer
There is an evidentiary loophole that allows voluntary statements, given in violation of Miranda, to be useable in court for impeachment purposes (challenging the defendant’s credibility).
There you have it. When you lie to the police, it’s a crime. But when the police lie to you, it’s business as usual and we call this “law” enforcement in the land of the free. This is why you never talk to cops.