Clarification: The initial WAVY report stated that the Virginia Beach Police Chief issued an apology in this matter. The police department contacted WAVY on Friday stating that the police chief did not in fact issue an apology during his interview with WAVY or in any official statement. We have updated the copy below to reflect this. In addition, a previous version of this article reflected that the Attorney General’s Office originally told all media outlets the conciliation agreement was agreed to by Virginia Beach City Council on Tuesday, January 11. However, Virginia Beach City Council never held a voting meeting or closed session on that date. A spokesperson for the City of Virginia Beach said City Council never approved the agreement.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach’s police chief is addressing a state investigation that found detectives on at least five occasions used fake documents appearing to be from another agency in an effort to get information from suspects.
While none of the interrogations where the documents were used occurred while Chief Paul Neudigate was leading the department, he said nonetheless the practice — while not illegal — is not acceptable to him.
“This shouldn’t have happened. We own it. But it is not systemic of an ongoing problem in your police department. I can tell you right now while I’m sitting in the chair it won’t happen again,” Neudigate said.
Three days before leaving office, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D-Va.) said an investigation revealed the Virginia Beach Police Department, on at least five occasions over a four-year period, used fake Department of Forensic Science documents in an effort to get information from suspects.
While Neudigate said he ordered the practice stopped almost immediately after he was made aware of it last spring, on Tuesday, Herring’s Office of Civil Rights made an agreement with Virginia Beach police that halts the department from ever using the tactic again.
However, he, a state lawmaker, defense attorney and the vice mayor are all on the same page in one line of thinking: trust has been broken.
“Has this tarnished our reputation? Sure. It’s a chink against the agency,” Neudigate said.
Neudigate said he was made aware of the concerns from Virginia’s Security of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran back on April 29, 2021. On May 1, an order went out prohibiting the use of any inauthentic document from another agency.
“I think the community understands … they want us to solve of violent crime. But they want us to do it in certain parameters. I think what we did in this occasion, it exceeds what the community would think is reasonable — and I agree,” Neudigate said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police are allowed to lie during interrogations in many cases, according to the Innocence Project.
However, Neudigate said “using someone else’s actual letterhead and work product,” is where the department “took it a step too far.”
Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) said he knows police bend the truth in the interrogation room. His concern centers around that the attorney general’s office found evidence that was manufactured.
“Imagine if it were a murder case and they had DNA there. I know I wasn’t there but they have DNA, and I’m to plead guilty to manslaughter, and your lawyer doesn’t even believe you because you have this document with what turns out to be bogus DNA,” Scott said.
Sonny Stallings, who for the past 44 years has served as a prosecutor and defense attorney, wants to see accountability.
“I don’t know how many clients are going to call me tomorrow, and say ‘What about my case? Did they lie in my case? Was the evidence good in my case?’“ he said.
According to the conciliation agreement released by Herring’s office, the people who were involved in cases that were impacted by the forged documents will be notified about what happened.
Neudigate said he doesn’t believe any of the replicated documents played a role in the ultimate filing of charges of the five defendants. He said in two cases, the charges were either expunged or the defendant was acquitted.
10 On Your Side learned one of the five people who were shown the forged documents is expected to soon plead guilty to a serious crime. We asked Stallings if that suspect were his client, what would he do and say?
“I would tell him he’s not going to plead guilty at all. I would challenge this evidence and challenge his statement,” Stallings said quickly. “That is unconscionable, and someone should go to jail. People should be fired.”
However, Neudigate said nobody will be fired or disciplined. He said he thinks the three detectives involved in the five cases were simply trying to solve crimes. He said he cannot speak for the department leadership’s thoughts on the issue at that time.
We reached out to former Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera, who did not sound enthused to hear from us. He was chief when most of the forging was going on. We asked him about it. He reminded us he’s been gone two years and he deferred to the current chief.
Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson said she was made aware of the agreement Wednesday.
“We want to catch the bad guys — that’s obvious — but we want to do it in a fair way because at the end of the day, our city integrity is really important to us,” Wilson said. “I think we are lucky it was caught, and we have new leadership in the police department, and we will never see this happen again.”
Stallings says the black mark on the police department will be hard to erase.
“People wonder why people don’t trust the police. Look at this case. To lie and say they have this information, how many confessions did they get? I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” Stallings said.
Again, Neudigate refutes this. Out of the approximately 9,600 investigative cases reviewed, only five instances of fake DFS documents were found, he said.
Stay with WAVY.com for updates on this developing story.