Lying Cop

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.

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15 thoughts on “Lying Cop

  1. I guess many cops believe the law does not apply to them. I imagine that they get away with it more often than not.

  2. If it were Joe Public who’d so flagrantly committed aggravated perjury, you can be sure he’d be looking at 2 to 10 years in prison. But experience tells me that nothing will come of what this officer did. If I’m mistaken, I’ll be sure to post an update.

  3. Guessing that the officer expected a court-appointed attorney, and then did not expect such an attorney to actually check the scene, thus displaying extreme cynicism regarding justice.

  4. Experience leads to what you’re calling “extreme cynicism regarding justice.”  I call it healthy skepticism and giving my clients the benefit of the doubt. That leads to fact-checking when things don’t quite add up. Note that I don’t necessarily equate cops with justice. In my experience, they are no more or less truthful than anyone else.

  5. I am never quite sure how far to go when I catch a cop in a lie like this. Do I ask that the cop be prosecuted? That always seems a little counter intuitive to defense lawyers. Judges and prosecutors never seem to know what to do either. I guess cops develop reputations, but it is a rare judge indeed to enter a finding at a suppression hearing that she or he did not find the officer to be credible. Maybe you can post a site with the officer’s name and department along with an excerpt of his tesimonty and with pics of the trees?

  6. I don’t see how creating a new site for the article would improve on posting it here. As luck would have it, Grits for Breakfast picked up the story, which ensured pretty good dissemination. In addition, on the advice of one of my mentors, I may submit the relevant materials to the Travis County District Attorney’s intake division. They have the power to investigate and file charges if they choose (though I won’t be holding my breath).

  7. That’s the really disturbing part. It’s highly unlikely that this was a unique occurence. I’m guessing that the only thing unusual about it was the circumstances that led me to discover the lie and made it relatively easy to prove.

  8. I didn’t really have gone through such a situation so cops lying about real facts it’s something new to me. How do they get away with it? Shouldn’t someone verify their statements to see if they are correct?

  9. The ability to exercise one’s constitutional rights in subsequent court proceedings is supposed to be the remedy when someone is wrongfully arrested on the word of a lying cop. In my view, every responsible citizen should make up his or her own mind as to whether that’s actually an adequate remedy. I would argue that it’s not. By law, every defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence but in my experience, most players in the criminal justice system actually operate under the assumption that cops tell the truth and defendants are guilty.

  10. I have a question? How do you try to persuade the judge to actually believe the defendant instead of the cop when it comes to an my word against the cops word situation. I went to court recently and the cop made up this whole fabricated story and the judge fell for it, there was no circumstantial evidence in her report, she made the whole thing up and got away with it. What really made me upset and not let this go because she smirked at me when she left the court when the judge said I was guilty. I feel like I was out numbered and my word meant nothing because she was an caucasian judge and a blonde cop, against a black female. I had no reason to lie under oath, she did and got away with giving me a bogus ticket that i refuse to pay for. I got pulled over for not having my turn signal on in a left turn only lane ,I could only turn left. She’s a lying cop and Im filing an appeal. Any suggestions of what I should do because she added a bunch of lies in her report that didn’t even take place and the only circumstantial evidence that she would have against me is if she brought proff from the camera in her police car.

  11. To paraphrase your questions: 1) How do you try to persuade a judge / jury / prosecutor to believe the defendant instead of the lying cop? Answer:  There is no simple one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It will completely depend on the facts and circumstances of the particular case and the strengths of the individual attempting it as well as the quirks of the specific judge / jury / prosecutor you’re attempting to persuade. Even for an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, it’s an uphill battle and sometimes impossible. 2) Any suggestions of what I should do? Answer:  Yes, hire a good criminal defense attorney. That doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win but will maximize your chances. You should understand, however, that a good attorney may cost significantly more than just paying the ticket. You have to decide how much the principle of the thing is worth to you and whether or not you can afford to put up a really good fight.

  12. I can’t answer that question for you. It depends on how important it is to you relative to what you can afford.

  13. It has become increasingly clear to me through my own experiences with the law that there is a very thin line between many police officers and criminals. It does often depend on the area though, some forces keep a closer eye on their own than others.

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