Virginia Beach police used forged documents that linked people’s DNA to a crime to get them to confess or cooperate with investigators, Virginia’s outgoing attorney general announced Wednesday. The city’s police department has changed its policy in the wake of the state’s probe, Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. In a separate statement, the city said it had ended the practice in May after conducting its own investigation, but called the tactic legal.
Virginia Beach police serve a city of about 450,000 people along the state’s coast. Officers used fake reports purporting to be from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science at least five times during interrogations between 2016 and 2020, Herring’s office said.
The bogus pieces of paper included a seal and letterhead from the state agency, the AG’s office said. In two instances, the documents included the signature of a fictitious employee from the department, and in at least one instance, a forged report was presented to a court as evidence, the AG’s office said.
Herring’s office did not say whether the use of the forged documents would invalidate any confessions that were obtained as a result, or otherwise affect the cases in which they were employed.
“This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” Herring said.
He said that while he appreciates that the department stopped the practice “and cooperated with our investigation, this is clearly a tactic that should never have been used.”
The strategy was discovered last year after a prosecutor asked the Department of Forensic Science to provide a certified copy of a document that police falsely claimed came from the department. The AG’s Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation and then proposed a “conciliation agreement” to stop the practice and reform department policies.
Official: Police used fake DNA reports during interrogations Associated Press