Michigan case offers an example of how public trust suffers when police officers lie
Jan 27, 2024, 10:02 PM
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
DETROIT (AP) — A Black man who was detained by police during an early morning walk in a quiet community northwest of Detroit says the white officer who threw him against a squad car, cuffed him and accused him of planning to break into a car also told a significant lie.
Brian Chaney says he asked for a supervisor during his arrest in Keego Harbor, Michigan, and Police Officer Richard Lindquist told him that another officer present was in charge. The problem: That second officer was not a supervisor or even a member of the Keego Harbor Police Department.
Lindquist was never disciplined and his chief says that while a suspect has the right to request a supervisor, what the officer did was OK.
“An officer can lie in the field when he’s not under oath,” Keego Harbor Police Chief John Fitzgerald said in a deposition in Chaney’s $10 million wrongful detention lawsuit.
But with American trust in police plummeting, buttressed by cellphone and bodycam videos that can expose untruths, a profession once broadly considered above reproach has seen its reputation suffer.
“It’s well accepted that the weakest and most vulnerable members of society are the biggest victims of coercive practices, like police being dishonest and deceptive practices in interrogations,” said James Craven, a legal associate with Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice and a former criminal defense attorney.
In a Gallup poll last year, 43% of respondents said they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police, down from 51% in 2021 and 64% in 2004. Gallup says 43% is an all-time low.
“We need police we can trust,” Craven said. “We need to start envisioning a police force that’s built with integrity at the center.”
Several recent cases underscore that need.
In May, a Washington, D.C., police officer was arrested on charges that he obstructed an investigation and lied about leaking confidential information to Proud Boys extremist group leader Enrique Tarrio.
A white police officer and union leader in Portland, Oregon, was fired in 2022 for leaking a false report from a 911 caller who claimed a Black city commissioner had been involved in a hit-and-run. The department later reinstated him.
A former officer in Louisville, Kentucky, admitted in court that she and another officer falsified information in a search warrant that led to the 2020 fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman.
Police are allowed to use deception and present false evidence during interrogations and investigations to get suspects to admit guilt, according to a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
New York State has considered legislation that would ban police from lying to suspects during interrogations, while Illinois,Colorado and Oregon prohibit police from lying when interrogating juveniles.
Chaney, a licensed therapist and certified hypnotherapist from suburban Detroit, says in his lawsuit that in July 2021 he dropped his two teenage sons off at a gym. He was walking for exercise along a commercial street in Keego Harbor, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, when Lindquist drove up behind and shouted: “Get your hands out of your pocket!”
According to the lawsuit, Lindquist told Chaney, “I’m going to frisk you because you look like you have a weapon and were going to break into cars.”
Lindquist called him a “dog,” shoved him in the back and pushed him against the squad car, injuring his groin. His wrist was hurt from the handcuffs in the ordeal lasting more than 20 minutes, Chaney’s complaint says.
Chaney said Lindquist only released him after he asked, “What are you going to do next, put your knee into my neck?” referencing the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Fitzgerald said in his deposition on July 18, 2022, that Lindquist wasn’t disciplined over the lie about the supervisor, characterizing it as “an attempted de-escalation, momentary speculation.” He insisted lying is not policy in his department but that “it’s what they’re allowed to do.”
Citizens who have been detained can ask for a supervisor — in this case, Fitzgerald — and officers should call him. Lindquist didn’t call and he didn’t think the officer gave Chaney his phone number, Fitzgerald said.
The chief declined to comment to The Associated Press, citing the pending litigation, and several national and international organizations advocating on behalf of law enforcement did not respond to messages from the AP.
Lindquist no longer works for the Keego Harbor police and the AP was unable to reach him. Attorneys representing Lindquist in Chaney’s case did not respond to requests for comment.
“You should not have the right to lie,” said Leonard Mungo, Chaney’s attorney. “That’s something that we’re writing into the moral fabric of the most powerful institution of our society that has the authority to put you in jail.”
Detroit-area attorney David A. Robinson said the lies are a disappointment.
“People hold police in high esteem,” said Robinson, who spent 13 years as a Detroit police officer. “A cop’s fall from grace is higher than that of a regular person when he is caught in a lie, simply because of this perception.”
Robinson is Black and most of his clients are Black people alleging civil rights violations by police.
“My experience with the profession reveals police officers seem often to take liberties in reports in order to justify force or buttress an arrest,” Robinson said. “It is therefore foolish to take an officer’s word at face value.”
Once someone realizes an officer has lied to them, trust is difficult to restore, according to Robert Feldman, professor of Psychological and Brain Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“Basically, I think police officers lie because they can,” Feldman said. “Most of the time they are not caught lying, and even if they are, they get away with it. If you come to an understanding the police are not credible and they use deceit, it makes you suspicious of everything they are saying.”
Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this story. ___
Corey Williams is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team.