Durham police chief: No sign more officers lied about 911 calls

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2014 

— Police Chief Jose Lopez has launched an internal investigation into an officer’s lie about a 911 call. Lopez says there’s no indication other officers have used the same tactic, though he’s not sure how the department would know if they did.

The chief learned about six weeks ago that an officer had admitted in court to fabricating a supposed 911 call from a residence in order to gain entrance, he said. The search resulted in criminal marijuana charges against a woman, Indy Week reported last week.

“I had gotten wind that this officer had testified about having used ... the 911 call, and called for an Internal Affairs investigation,” Lopez said.

Morgan Canady, the public defender in the case, said a police officer testified that he was acting under a policy that allowed officers to lie about 911 calls if they were serving a domestic violence arrest warrant.

The officer said he was attempting to serve such a warrant but did not produce the warrant in trial, Canady said. Canady declined to identify the defendant in the case, citing her concern for the defendant’s privacy.

In response to the case, the police chief also issued a memo “essentially letting (officers) know, making it clear if they didn’t know, that it’s not the policy and that’s not how we teach it,” he said.

The memo, dated June 6, said “some officers” had told people about 911 calls in order to win permission to enter buildings “for the actual purpose of looking for wanted persons on outstanding warrants.”

Lopez said on Tuesday that, in fact, he has not heard of any similar incidents. He had used the words “some officers” because the memo wasn’t meant for public consumption, he said.

“It was to try to minimize any fingerpointing at one individual whose situation was more of an allegation at the time,” he said.

Eventually, a district court judge suppressed the evidence gained from the search in the case, Canady said.

Lopez said that the internal investigation is focusing on the incident from late May.

“I have no indication that anybody else has used this – so I’m looking at this incident for what it is,” he said.

Never having received a similar complaint, and never having seen it come up in court, he said there’s little reason to believe that other officers have lied about 911 calls.

The trial in question was less than 15 minutes long, Canady said, and the charges were dropped. Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said he had never previously heard of such a case and that officers lying about 911 calls would be “very troubling.”

“People have a constitutional right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as a constitutional right to privacy, and you cannot lie your way around individuals’ core constitutional rights,” he said.

Lopez agreed that searches based on a fabricated 911 call shouldn’t be admissible in court.

“I don’t know if it’s been challenged in court,” he said. “I personally don’t believe it should stand up.”

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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