Broward County Sheriff's Detective Christian Zapata was acquitted of 8 counts of official misconduct in the first case in a fabricated false confession scandal to go to trial. Zapata and others in the department are accused of falsifying police reports by closing unsolved cases with fabricated false confessions. The Sheriff's Office abused a system known as an "exceptional clearance" to classify thousands of cases as solved when no one was arrested, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation. Under pressure from Sheriff Ken Jenne to improve their crime solving stats, detectives cooked the books. After arresting a juvenile or an adult on a charge, detectives then would blame other unsolved crimes on the suspect, close out the cases, and never charge the suspects with these crimes. The eight counts Zapata faced in this trial pertained to 29 property crimes Zapata blamed on Reyler Llanes, 20. Llanes denied confessing to the crimes or driving around with Zapata pointing out locations where the crimes were committed. In other cases, it has been proven that defendants were blamed for crimes they could not have committed -- usually because they were locked up in jail at the time of the crimes. Zapata still faces six other counts of official misconduct and several other detectives' cases are set for trial in the coming months.
Why did the jury acquit? It wasn't because they didn't believe Zapata falsified reports. They did and they believed that the defendants who testified they never confessed to the crimes. In order to convict Zapata under Florida law, the jury needed to find that Zapata received some tangible benefit from his fraud. "We couldn't distinguish what those benefits were from the evidence we were given," said juror John Hooper, a Fort Lauderdale Realtor. "We didn't believe that someone would take the chance of committing a felony in order to make himself look good in the eyes of his peers."
I don't know whether officers would commit a felony to improve their standing in the eyes of their peers, but it's clear that the best interrogators are often revered by their peers and commanding officers. The "closers" are at the top of the pecking order in most police departments and anyone who has ever been on top wants to stay on top. This can often lead interrogators to push the envelope in order to obtain confessions. It also explains why police departments circle the wagons when one of their closers obtains a false or coerced confession and why detectives who obtain such confessions are rarely demoted and often promoted.
"Confessions are sacrosanct and he is creating fiction out of them," Prosecutor Tim Donnelly said in his closing argument. The same can be said for many detectives who suggest facts to suspects, write out confessions for suspects to sign, or script confessions for suspects to rehearse before going on tape.