Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When police become accessories to murder

I'm enraged - furious! - to read about the conduct of Los Angeles Police Dept. detectives Martin Pinner and Juan Rodriguez.

Basically, to cut a long story short (see the link above for the whole thing), the two lied to a suspect, telling him that a young girl, Martha Puebla, 16, had informed them that he was the guilty person in a shooting they were investigating. In reality she'd told them nothing at all - but they used her name anyway.

The suspect then ordered that the girl be killed.

On a cool spring night five years ago, 16-year-old Martha Puebla sat on the curb outside her Sun Valley home, talking to a friend, when a man walked up from behind.

"Who are you?" the man demanded of Puebla.

"I'm Martha," she responded. "You know me."

With that, the man pulled a 9-millimeter handgun from his sweat shirt pocket and started shooting. The fatal shot -- fired from so close that it left soot and burn marks on Puebla's cheek -- struck just below her left eye.

Alarmed by the gunfire, Puebla's mother rushed outside. "¡Dios mío! ¡Está muerta!" the neighbors heard her cry from down the block. "My God! She's dead!"

The two detectives had never warned her or her family that they'd used her name as a ruse to try to 'break' their suspect. Their decision to do so was unquestionably the primary factor in her murder. If they'd warned her, or taken steps to protect her, she need not have died - but they didn't do so. Apparently they couldn't have cared less.

Pinner has just been reassigned to juvenile cases. Rodriguez was reassigned some years ago to another unit. In addition, the LAPD is updating its training materials for detectives.

Starting last week, training for all new and veteran detectives was changed to include clearer instruction on how to balance the often aggressive push to extract confessions from suspects with the need to protect witnesses -- actual or otherwise.

"It became clear . . . that we needed to add more pieces to our training," said Beck, who recently took over the department's detective corps. "We have never had this issue arise before, and we certainly do not want it to arise again."

. . .

Tragically, the detectives could have known the killing [of Martha Puebla] had been set in motion: A secret microphone had recorded Ledesma's phone call, but the recording was not transcribed until after the girl was dead.

Citing a lawsuit recently filed by Puebla's parents against the city and the detectives, Beck declined to comment on the case.

Lying to suspects is legal and, in general, Beck said, LAPD detectives are not forbidden from using a person's name during an interrogation if they believe the move is needed to gain a confession.

In the past, Beck said, detectives were largely taught that ruses were permitted unless, in the detective's opinion, it would lead an innocent person to confess.

Now, he said, that training has been bolstered to make clear to detectives that they must weigh the benefit of lying to a suspect against the potential danger the lies may create. The new training will also emphasize that detectives have an obligation to offer police protection to someone they believe they have placed in danger.

"We obviously do not want to be doing more harm than good," he said. "We need to ensure that we are not endangering innocent people and that, if we must, that we know how to deal with it."

Fine words, Detective Beck - but a young girl is dead. Words and changed policies won't bring her back to life.

Why are these two scumbags detectives not on trial for culpable homicide, at the very least? After all, her death is directly attributable to their misuse of her name. In my book, that makes them accessories before the crime.

I hope her parents' lawsuit against the LAPD succeeds, and costs the department millions. It might wake them up.

I hope that every time Pinner and Rodriguez wake up at night, they see the accusing eyes of Martha Puebla staring at them.

I hope they never sleep soundly again.



dave said...

"Why are these two scumbags detectives not on trial for culpable homicide, at the very least?"

Two words: sovereign immunity.

Because our fine government--including the boys in blue--are convinced that their job is so important as to supersede the rights of the common man (to say nothing of the accused), we all have to pay the price of their actions, while they stand immune.

You may also be interested in the reporting of Radley Balko; check with your cardiologist first, because I guaran-damn-tee he'll raise your blood pressure.

Anonymous said...

Whe the hell should the LADP care if they have to pay millions? It is OUR DAMN MONEY they are using?

phlegmfatale said...

What a horrid story. People should think about the way their actions will affect other people. Scary story, and so unnecessary.

Brandon said...

The attitude taken by the LAPD in this case is sickening. This is not a training issue. You cannot train someone to be intelligent. If the detectives in question could not detect that dropping a name to a known gang-banger would likely result in violence, then they're beyond stupid and thus unqualified to hold their positions.