Why I Don’t Trust Prosecutors (Part 2)
For Part 1, click here.
(Part 2 of 4)*
The Truth? Who Cares About the Truth?
I finished my work at court for the evening and drove to the police station to interview the main officers on the scene. When I arrived at the station, I first spoke with “Sergeant Omega,” who oversaw the search of Byron’s home. After I introduced myself, he looked at me slowly from head to toe. He didn’t get up from his desk or shake my hand.
While I questioned him about the facts, his responses were noticeably short. In fact, he never took his eyes off his computer screen. After a few questions, he abruptly ended the conversation, saying that everything “was in the police report.” Figuring he was too busy to answer questions from a rookie prosecutor, I thanked him for his time and left.
I then went to the station breakroom to interview the two arresting officers: “Officer Alpha” (the training officer) and “Officer Beta” (his trainee). When I introduced myself, Officer Alpha quipped, “I didn’t know district attorneys made house calls.”
After interviewing them separately, I noticed their stories were practically identical — almost word for word. That usually means witnesses improperly colluded with each other. While I was a little annoyed, I didn’t dwell on the issue because, overall, I believed the officers.
I then reviewed Byron’s video-recorded statement. The first thing I noticed was the grapefruit-sized knot on the left side of his forehead. Next, I noticed his clothes were torn and disheveled.
In the video, Byron made several statements:
- He denied physically fighting Officer Beta.
- He was upset with the officers for pulling him over in front of his house.
- He yelled for his mother, who was inside the house, because the stop was “bullshit.”
- Officer Beta then made fun of him for calling out to his mother, calling him a “little bitch.”
- He replied, “Yo mama’s a bitch.”
- Officer Beta punched him hard in the head, knocking him down.
- Officer Beta continued punching him in the head.
- The cops planted the gun to teach him a lesson.
After reviewing the video, I noticed that Byron didn’t hesitate in telling his story. I also noticed that he spoke with conviction. As a result, I felt compelled to take another look at the photos of Officer Beta that were included in the police report. While reviewing the photos, I observed two important things. First, in terms of injuries, Officer Beta had only a small scrape on his right fist. Second, his uniform was impeccable, showing absolutely no signs of a fight.
Based on what I heard in the video and saw from the photos, I believed Byron.
I decided to approach my boss about my feelings. I was reluctant at first because I didn’t want to be seen as a “trial dodger” — the absolute worst thing a rookie prosecutor can be. But, because I believed Byron, I felt a moral obligation to tell my boss about my feelings.
So, I told him.
“I don’t care what you believe, it’s about what you can prove,” he said, with an annoyed look. “Besides, you don’t have any evidence that contradicts the cops, and you don’t have any hard evidence that supports Byron’s statements.”
My boss emphasized that it wasn’t my job to decide who was telling the truth because “that’s the job of the jury.” He then ordered me to proceed to trial because, according to him, “We try cases.”
On the eve of trial, I tried convincing myself that it was okay to proceed. After all, I thought, “I don’t really have anything that supports Byron’s story, and I wasn’t Byron’s defense attorney. My job is to try the case and secure a conviction, right?”
The next day, I headed to court. Right before going to the assigned courtroom, the defense attorney, a veteran public defender, handed me a photograph of the couch where Byron slept. Familiar with the couch, I asked her what she planned to do with the photograph.
“You’ll see,” she replied as she pushed through the courtroom doors to leave.
*The opinions here do not reflect the official views of the L.A. District Attorney’s Office, my current employer. To avoid fierce harassment and oppressive retaliation, I’ve decided to conceal my identity, for now.