(The Center Square) – The Virginia Beach Police Department challenged Attorney General Mark Herring’s narrative on a controversial interrogation technique, saying it addressed the concerns before Herring’s investigation.
The attorney general’s Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation into the department using forged forensic analysis documents during investigations to get confessions or to encourage people to cooperate with the police investigation. The attorney general investigation found the department used this technique on at least five occasions between March 2016 and February 2020.
Under the attorney general’s authority to investigate unconstitutional and unlawful patterns or practices by law enforcement agencies, Herring’s office asked the city council to sign a conciliation agreement, which enacted a number of reforms. According to Herring’s office, the practice may have been unconstitutional. The police department, however, said it had already prohibited the practice eight months ago, before it was aware of an investigation, and courts have already ruled that the practice is legal.
In a statement, the police department said the Department of Forensic Services and the Secretary of Public Safety notified the police department April 29 that a forged forensic analysis may have been used during an interrogation. On May 1, the police chief prohibited officers from using the technique and were later informed about the investigation, on May 12, after the police department had launched its own investigation.
Before the conciliation agreement proposed by the attorney general’s office, a policy that prohibited the practice had already been codified, according to the department. The department also argued the use of forged documents was determined to be constitutional by the United States Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court.
“Though this practice during interrogations has consistently been found to be constitutional by both the Virginia Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court,” the department said, “the VBPD took immediate and proactive steps to address this very limited interrogation technique which they felt, though legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects of their Police Department.”
The conciliation agreement requires the department to issue a general order that mandates all police discontinue the use of any inauthentic certificates and requires all sworn personnel to sign an acknowledgement of receipt and commitment to abiding by the order. The department must also report any alleged use of forged documents to the Office of Civil Rights and get approval from the office before altering any relevant portion of the order.
“This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” Herring said in a statement. “It also abused the good name and reputation of the Commonwealth’s hard-working forensic scientists and professionals who work hard to provide accurate, solid evidence in support of our law enforcement agencies. While I appreciate that Virginia Beach Police put an end to this practice and cooperated with our investigation, this is clearly a tactic that should never have been used.”
The attorney general also came under fire earlier this month when he sued the town of Windsor for alleged discrimination against Black residents. His investigation found the department’s traffic stop and vehicle searches were disproportionately used against Black residents. The town alleged that the attorney general’s investigation was political and did not consider whether the stops were legitimate.
Herring lost re-election in November and will be replaced by Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares.