It’s been a long time since I learned that police officers not only have incentive to lie but that many of them do it all the time. As explained long ago by a federal appeals court judge, who was recently quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, “It is an open secret long shared by prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges that perjury is widespread among law enforcement officers.” But I was still taken aback by the blatant lying that I encountered last week.
The case involved a rarely used arm of the criminal trespass statute that I was familiar with only because of the time that I spent as a prosecutor in the piney woods of East Texas. Lumber companies typically use purple paint markings on trees in a way that’s described by that statute to mark their territory and let other players in the lumber industry know that a piece of land (and especially the valuable stand of pines on it) is off limits. But such markings have no real relevance in an urban area.
Nonetheless, the probable cause affidavit that Officer Gerardo Cantu, APD#6111, swore to and filed in this case indicated that he arrested my client for trespassing on a “heavily forested” property at 8212 Sam Rayburn Drive, which contained trees “painted with a purple band” as well as posted “No Trespassing” signs that were “in plain view” on all sides of the property.
As you can see from the street view provided by Google Maps, this is not a heavily forested property. [Note: The Google Maps link above has been updated to display images as they appeared at the time this post was published. Use the control box in the upper left corner to set the image date.]
When I drove out there last week, I discovered that it is, in fact, a multi-unit property in a densely populated urban slum. There’s a single tree with no purple paint in sight. The only signs posted anywhere on the property do not say “No Trespassing.” Rather, they prohibit drinking and loud music in public areas, roaming around, soliciting, loitering, and so forth.
In fact, no element of Officer Cantu’s criminal trespass allegation against my client turned out to be true. He just made the whole thing up. The really surprising thing is that he’s willing to commit aggravated perjury when it’s so easy to prove.
As for the case against my client, I printed out the whole stack of photos that I took at the scene, which included a shot with the address shown on the side of the building, and showed them to the prosecutor at our scheduled pretrial conference last week. She decided that it was in the “interest of justice” to dismiss. Imagine that.
The photos below were taken with a pair of BlackBerry cell phones on February 9, 2009 around 5pm.