Monday, November 12, 2007

Using coercive methods, police extracted a false confession.

It started on February 20, 1997. Two Modesto police officers yanked Michael, then a 16-year old junior, from his second period class for questioning in a gang-related shooting. School officials cooperated fully with the police and did nothing to intercede on Michael’s behalf. Michael was subjected to hours of threats from the police right at his school. What took place at the school sent Michael to jail for a year.

Officers Al Brocchini and Detective Nick Chilles arrived at the high school and took Michael down to the attendance office where they interrogated him relentlessly. They wanted information on a burglary and subsequent shooting. Michael didn’t have any information for them; he claims he wasn’t there. But police kept after him, threatening and making promises throughout the entire morning.

Michael wanted the session to end. The police told him repeatedly that he would not be prosecuted as long as he cooperated with them and provided information about other gang members who were involved in the burglary and shooting. They told him that even if he was the shooter, he would not be booked. And they said that if he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, he would be sent to jail.

Worn down and confused, Michael told them what they wanted to hear. He made a false confession. The police put words into his mouth. In reviewing the 169-page transcript, an expert on police interrogations called the statement "grossly" coercive.

Then, true to their word, the cops took him home. When he got there, Michael explained the false confession to his father. The father called the police and said that his son had lied. The police responded by returning and arresting Michael for lying. He was then charged with 11 counts of attempted murder and remained incarcerated for the next year.

During that time Michael recanted his confession. The police, using their coercive methods once again, were able to extract statements from two other youths who claimed that Michael was involved. Michael ultimately took a lie detector test which showed that he was not involved in the burglary and shooting.

When Michael was first arrested, he was placed in juvenile hall. Inmates cannot post bail to get released from juvenile hall. When it was later determined that he would be tried as an adult, he was transferred to the men’s jail and bail was posted at $250,000. This amount was too high for Michael’s family to pay. So Michael remained in jail. In order to do his best for his client, Michael’s attorney had to request a number of delays of court appearances and Michael remained in jail.

Finally after Michael had passed two polygraph tests and repeatedly denied that he was involved, a deputy district attorney asked the Superior Court to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.

Michael is now free. But I cannot imagine what spending a year in an adult jail for a crime he did not commit has done to someone so young. Not only was Michael unfairly punished, police focus on the wrong boy let the real perpetrator to go free.

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