Lying Under Garrity Immunity

Officers are protected from prosecution for admissions made under the protection of Garrity , but making false statements opens them up to other criminal liability.

In United States v. Veal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided to address the issue of lying while in the confines of a Garrity statement. This issue haunted the courts and the structure of internal affairs for years. Under Garrity, governments have the right to compel a statement and could terminate a person for lying; however, it was a gray area for prosecution.

Veal gave governments the answer. The event leading to the decision was strong. The chief of police in Miami, Florida, received information from an anonymous source that drug dealers met at a residence in Miami and contracted to kill Pablo Camacho, a SNU (Street Narcotics Unit) officer. Officers Nathaniel Veal, Andy Watson, Pablo Camacho, Charlie Haynes, Thomas Trujillo, and Ronald Sinclair were informed of the meeting and that a contract was out for Camacho. The officers knew the residence where the contract originated to be that of Leonardo Mercado, a known drug dealer.

Camacho, Veal, Watson, Haynes, Sinclair and Trujillo went to Mercado's home. Mercado was outside the residence. Camacho went into Mercado's home. Within minutes, the other officers went into the home and closed the door and curtains. Moments later, other police units, fire, and rescue arrived, summoned by calls for help from Sinclair and Camacho. Officer Mary Reed arrived and went inside the home.

Once there, she saw the SNU officers in the room over the bloodied body of Mercado. Haynes told Reed that Mercado was "the mother [expletive] that put a contract out on Camacho" and was encouraged to "get her kick in." Reed declined the offer, knowing Mercado was in bad shape. Mercado was indeed severely injured and died at the scene. The autopsy revealed multiple bruises, wounds to the head, scalp, neck, face, and fractured ribs. Furthermore, shoe imprints on the body were subsequently matched to some of the officer's shoes.

The SNU officers left, returning to the police department. Witnesses saw the officers enter the lieutenant's office and shut the door. The witnesses saw nothing out of the ordinary about Camacho when he entered, however when he left, his shirt was ripped on the chest and sleeve. While inside the lieutenant's office, photographs were taken that showed the damage to Camacho's shirt. The photographs, a butcher knife from the scene, and a bag of crack cocaine were placed into a cabinet in the lieutenant's office.

Camacho went to Sylvia Romans, a crime scene technician, who took photographs in a controlled environment. These were routinely taken when officers are involved in incidents of possible excessive force. Romans took photographs of the missing pocket and the tear on the shirt sleeve. Camacho had no visible cuts, but his right eye was bruised.

In an unexpected turn of events, a freelance photographer was at the scene and took a photo of Camacho in the door of Mercado's home. There was no damage to Camacho's shirt visible in those photographs. The same photographer later came to the police department and took photographs showing the tears on the shirt. At that time, the front of the shirt was temporally repaired by a piece of tape holding it together.

Also, unexpected by the SNU officers was that two officers visiting from the Detroit Police Department accompanied the SNU lieutenant to Mercado's home. One testified she saw an officer leaving with a rusty butcher knife. Later in the evening, she saw the knife in the lieutenant's office. Camacho was treated at a local hospital for high blood pressure and swelling. The other officers had no complaints of injury.

Miami homicide was advised that Camacho had been involved in the death of Mercado, but Veal, Watson, Haynes, and Sinclair were not. All were interviewed by state investigators about their knowledge and subsequent involvement in the death of Mercado. All said they had stopped by Mercado's home because Camacho saw drug activity that gave them reason to investigate further. They denied they were there because of the death threat on Veal, and that they had any physical contact with Mercado. Once they entered Mercado's home, Mercado was lying on the floor. Furthermore, they did not admit to meeting together at the lieutenant's office.

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