Police coercion can result in unreliable testimony from a variety of sources. Although false confessions are the subject of this post, the same tactics have been used by police to peruade witnesses to finger innocent people. Less common, however, is the use of aggressive interrogation tactics by police on crime victims, usually sexual assault victims, to recant their claims of being assaulted. There have been several cases where rape victims have contacted police, police have been unable to verify the claims of sexual assault, and for whatever reason, they then begin to doubt the victim's claims. Tunnelvision takes over and police then turn their interrogation techniques on victims and have convinced some to recant their claims. Several years ago, a detective in White Bear Lake, MN, was caught on tape interrogating aggressively a teenage girl who had claimed she was raped. He didn't believe her and tried to get her to recant; she did not and it later turned out she had been telling the truth. Here's a snapshot of that case -- http://www.truthinjustice.org/abduction.htm This was followed by a second case from Inver Grove Heights, MN where officers were successful in coercing a teenage victim to recant her claims she had been sexually assaulted. http://wcco.com/topstories/local_story_311142618.html
A new book written by Bill Lueders CRY RAPE: The True Story of One Woman’s Harrowing Quest for Justice tells the story of how police officers and prosecutors from one of the most progressive cities in the country -- Madison, Wisconsin -- refused to believe a rape victim and then coerced her into falsely recanting her statement. Although I have not yet read the book, the following recommendation, from a law enforcement officer who was involved in the case and who defended the detectives who pressured the victim to recant, is a better endorsement than any I could ever give (I just ordered the book online). She writes:
"Although I am not proud of being one of the characters in the book who, with the best of intentions, initially contributed to the horrible re-victimization of an innocent victim and the injustices that took place in this case, I think it is must reading for every single person concerned about justice in the form of preventing the arrests, charges, and convictions of innocent persons. In fact, I think it is must reading for all of us working in the criminal justice system.
It is an example of how very competent, ethical, well-intentioned, and community-oriented police officers and detectives, in one of the most progressive police departments I am aware of, are capable of human error. It shows how tunnel vision works and is also an example of how the kinds of perfectly legal deceptive interrogation practices, including ruses, that most police departments train their officers and detectives in (whether through formal specialized training or informal peer training) can compel innocent people to confess to things they did not do under pressure from interrogators. I think Leuders did an excellent job of letting the facts speak for themselves and I am recommending this book to everybody I can."
She concludes by saying: "This case is a personal reminder to me everyday of the importance of humility when you have the authority of the State behind you."
Such honesty is so refreshing. If only more police and prosecutors felt this way and learned from their mistakes, we'd have much fewer wrongful convictions.
For more about the book, go to www.cryrapebook.com