VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Just days before he leaves office, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says his Office of Civil Rights has made an agreement with Virginia Beach police that halts the department from forging documents to get cooperation or confessions.
According to Herring’s office, on at least five occasions between March 2016 and February 2020, the Virginia Beach Police Department used forged documents they said were from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to get the confessions or cooperation during interrogations.
The practice was revealed in April 2021 when an assistant commonwealth’s attorney asked the DFS to provide a certified copy of a forged document — which the DFS never created or was aware of.
Not only were the fraudulent documents used at least five times, but in at least one instance, a forged document was used in court as evidence. The documents generally showed a suspect’s DNA was found in connection with a crime. The documents included a seal, letterhead, contact information, and, on two documents, a signature of a fictitious DFS employee.
Herring in a news release on Wednesday said the Office of Civil Rights had come to an “enforceable agreement” with VBPD to end the practice and make policy changes to protect Virginians’ rights.
10 On Your Side reached out to Virginia Beach police Wednesday evening, but have not yet heard back. This report will be updated with any statement they provide.
Herring called the tactic “potentially unconstitutional.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police are allowed to lie during interrogations in many cases, according to the Innocence Project.
“This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” said Herring. “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 agreement between VBPD and the Office of Civil Rights came after an investigation. Herring’s office has the authority to investigate unconstitutional or unlawful patterns or practices by Virginia law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, according to the conciliation agreement released by Herring’s office, Police Chief Paul Neudigate issued a directive on May 1, 2021 that mandated sworn personnel immediately stop using any forged or fake certificates of analysis or DFS documents. His mandate was issued before he was aware of the investigation from the Office of Civil Rights.
Virginia Beach City Council agreed to the policy changes on Tuesday. They are effective immediately and will remain in effect for at least two years.
If VBPD fails to comply with the terms of the agreement, the Office of Civil Rights can seek “judicial enforcement.”
The changes and reforms include:
- Virginia Beach Police Department must mandate that all sworn personnel “immediately discontinue the use of any inauthentic certificates of analysis, DFS letterhead, or templates used to make inauthentic documents, and prohibiting personnel from making or using any inauthentic or altered certificates, letterhead, or formats of any department outside the agency.”
- Sworn personnel assigned to the Detective Bureau must sign an acknowledgment of receipt and commitment to follow the mandate.
- The department will make sure all training about interrogations for swown personnel covers the prohibition against use of forged documents.
- VBPD must immediately investigate any alleged use of forged documents and report the findings to the Office of Civil Rights within five days of the probe’s completion.
- VBPD must get approval from the Office of Civil Rights for any changes to the relevant portion of the general order that creates the mandate.
Additionally, Herring’s office said the individuals who were interrogated with forged documents will be notified by the Office of Civil Rights.
“If any additional uses of forged documents are discovered, OCR expects that Virginia Beach Police will provide notice to OCR and any affected individuals,” Herring’s office said.