Police used false DNA reports during interrogations

Virginia Beach police used forged documents linking people’s DNA to a crime to get them to confess or cooperate with investigators, the outgoing Virginia attorney general announced Wednesday.

The city police department changed its policy in the wake of the state’s investigation, Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. In a separate statement, the city said it had terminated 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 false reports purporting to be from the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences at least five times during interrogations between 2016 and 2020, Herring’s office said.

The fake papers included a state agency stamp and letterhead, the attorney general’s office said. In two cases, the documents included the signature of a fictitious department employee and, in at least one case, a falsified 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 the confessions obtained as a result or affect the cases in which they were employed.

“This was an extremely worrying and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the Commonwealth’s name to try to force 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 Sciences to provide a certified copy of a document that police falsely claimed came from the department. The GA Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation and later proposed a “settlement agreement” to stop the practice and reform department policies.

The Virginia Beach City Council accepted the changes Tuesday, Herring said. They include an order from the police department requiring all sworn personnel to stop using bogus state agency certificates of analysis. Detectives must also acknowledge and commit to following the warrant.

The terms of the agreement will remain in effect for at least two years, the state said. The Office for Civil Rights will notify people who were questioned with forged documents.

Herring, a Democrat, will leave the attorney general’s office this weekend and Republican Jason Miyares, who defeated Herring in last year’s election, will take office.

In a statement, the City of Virginia Beach said its police department “took immediate and proactive steps to address this very limited interrogation technique which, in its judgment, while legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects.” .

The department’s investigation reviewed 9,600 criminal cases and “found a total of five instances over a five-year period… where replicas of inauthentic certificates were used,” city officials said.