Today’s Investigative Special Report – December 11, 2012 “Dealing With Today’s Law Enforcement Specialized Investigations” “When the Facts and Evidence Are ‘Obvious’ Why Is It Then That Law Enforcement Can’t Find the Truth”

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc
Forensic Expert – Senior Author
You Be The Officer
The smoking gun is sitting in the front room on top of the coffee table. You, a law enforcement officer, were riding with your partner when you received a radio call that there is a possible domestic violence occurring in your district, approximately two minutes from your location. You tell radio that you and your partner are close and will take the call.
Soldiers of the United States Army Criminal In...
Soldiers of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division inspecting a crime scene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Upon arrival you and your partner pull up in front of the residence where the possible complaint was made. A large group has gathered outside as well and you try to separate them. Someone in the group tells you and your partner that two people live in the house, a married couple, Betty and Sam. Upon further questioning you ascertain that tonight there were loud voices, shouting and screaming in the house which is very unusual for Betty and Sam, they aren’t the type of people who would get into a verbal altercation. One of the African American male witnesses tells you he heard one shot as the verbal altercation seemed to escalate. No one else in the crowd remembers hearing the shot.
You and your partner walk up to the front door and knock. The door is partially ajar and your partner, who has his holster empty, gun by his side, pushes the front door open. Immediately to the left there is a male body approximately 30-35 years of age, 185 to 200 in weight, difficult to see how tall he was at that time, but assumed he was approximately 6’0”. His hair is short on the top, cut like he might be in the military. His body is in a prone position and he is lying in a pool of blood. Apparently it is his blood, which is oozing from an injury to his frontal lobe.
Sitting on a recliner chair is a white female approximately 20-25 years of age, guessing at her weight to be 125, 5’ tall, long straight blonde hair. She has her face planted into one of the pillows which may have been taken from the couch. She looks up at you and then with the same motion she used to look at you, she puts her face back into the pillow. She has been crying.
Your partner checks the male for a pulse but finds none. You ask her what happened and she doesn’t move, say anything, or acknowledge you or your partner’s presence. After several seconds you ask her if there is anyone else in the house. She shakes her head no. You nod to your partner to check out the rest of the house, a one floor rambler with a daylight basement. After a few minutes your partner returns and shakes his head, indicating no one else is in the house.
In solving the crime, things are looking up as you have neighbors who alleged they heard what appeared to be an argument occurring in the house. No one has mentioned anyone coming or going, and after a few minutes of listening to the yelling and screaming one gun shot is heard coming from inside the residence.  
You ask radio to send a medic unit, a supervisor, a crime scene technician team, medical examiner, and the major crime detectives who are assigned to this specific district for where the crime occurred.
As everyone you have requested comes to the crime scene you tell your version of what the facts are over and over, as well as your partner. As you tell your version of what you and your partner observed something doesn’t seem right everything is so ‘obvious’. Each time you tell the story, t
English: A crime scene. .
English: A crime scene. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
his bell goes off inside your head that something just isn’t right.
The facts of the case are clear (or are they) and from an investigative stand point you and your associates should be able to wrap up the evidence and call it a night. As long as everyone does their job!
Too often this type of response by law enforcement occurs and the effort put forth by the responding unit is “minimal effort,” you call for others to do their jobs, and relinquish the crime scene once the supervisor arrives or the district homicide detective arrives.
The freedom to do other tasks is left to the specialists such as the crime scene technicians who will identify, collect, and package the evidence for storage and later analysis. The medical examiner will check the body for wounds providing the district homicide detective with an initial hypothesis of how the male victim expired. Your supervisor will have you assist the detective in performing any tasks he deems necessary for you to do.
Everything you and your partner did from the time you received the call until you made the calls for the specialists to respond to the scene could you say you did you did more than what is “obvious?” This is the question most supervisors, who will eventually read your paperwork, and others, such as a defense attorney, will ask you when you are requested by the district prosecutor to testify.
The district prosecutor will walk you through the entire set of circumstances of the radio call that night, and what you and your partner did. The questions will be very basic and narrative oriented and your testimony will take only a few minutes. Unfortunately for you the defense attorney will not be as kind to you.
The defense attorney’s job is to point out to the jury that you only took the “obvious” investigative steps prior to making the radio call for assistance. If the woman, who was found in the living room, was arrested and eventually charged with murder, took advantage of her Miranda Warnings and requested an attorney, the only way the defense attorney may be able to prove her innocence is by attacking your investigative steps from the time you received the call until you turned the crime scene over to the district homicide detective.
The feeling you had prior to leaving the scene that night begins to come back to you. You try to focus on the questions the defense attorney is asking you, but you begin to question, “What exactly were those feelings you had during your time at the crime scene that night?”
You are dividing your time between listening and feeling, and then the defense attorney asks a series of questions which you know will not only embarrass you as a law enforcement officer but the case in chief. In fact, your answers may prove to be the reason the woman in the room that night and now being tried for murder may just go free.
The defense attorney asks you, “Officer, besides what you told us here today, were there any steps you could have taken to ascertain what happened that night in my client’s house?” You hesitate to answer this question because you know if you answer the question one way he will ask you a series of questions which will make you look incompetent or ask you questions which will make you look not only incompetent, but lazy and stupid. Your answer has to be the truth and you tell him, “No sir that is all I did.”
A Crime Scene at the National Museum of Crime ...
A Crime Scene at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
He walks toward you and asks, “How many voices did the people outside my client’s home hear on the night of the shooting?” You respond, “I don’t know.”
He continues, “How many people had a view into my client’s house that evening?” You respond, “I don’t know.”
“Officer, when you came into my client’s house how many people had been there during the shooting?” You respond, “I believe the defendant and her husband.”
“Are you sure that my client and her husband were the only two people in their home that evening?” As he turns to the jury and looks at them from side to side waiting for my answer. You respond, “I don’t know.”
He then changes his questioning to what you and your partner did after you were inside the house. “Did you check to see if the back door was locked or unlocked?” You respond, “My partner checked the house to ascertain if anyone else was in the house”…he interrupts me, “And do you know if he checked the back door to ascertain if the door was locked or unlocked?” You respond, “I don’t know.”
The exchange between a defense attorney and a law enforcement officer can be brutal for the officer if he/she didn’t take the logical and reasonable steps to perform tasks which are outside the “obvious.” Anyone could testify that there was one person dead and another sitting in a chair with a gun close by. It is the investigative steps an officer takes which are developed and built upon their ‘sixth sense’. The innate ability to understand what the crime scene tells or doesn’t tell him/her is what others will judge the officer’s competency and intelligence on.
The intent of this article was to demonstrate that anyone who is a law enforcement officer and is responsible to investigate an allegation that a crime took place, must take investigative steps which are based upon what the crime scene tells them. In the above case there were a multitude of investigative steps a responding law enforcement officer should have taken once the crime scene was secure.
If you are ever selected to be on a jury or you are a witness or victim of a crime, listen closely to 
Rigoberto Alpizar crime scene photo
Rigoberto Alpizar crime scene photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
what investigative steps the law enforcement officer took during the initial aspects of the crime through the development of the investigation to the conclusion which the officer based his/her final hypothesis of what he/she believed happened.
If the investigator did only what was “obvious” then you should know that there is more to the story than what has been offered to you by the investigator. It is difficult to find the truth about what occurred if the investigator only took the necessary (obvious) investigative steps to prepare a report that a crime occurred, this is who the victim and witnesses were, and this is the man who committed the crime.
After listening to the officer’s rendition of what investigative steps he/she took and you have more questions then when you began, then more than likely there is a need for further information to have been developed. Finding the truth is difficult for the most part, as generally there are two people involved, no witnesses, and minimal evidence. It is what they call he said, she said. The officer’s involvement can either be helpful or a hindrance. In the end you will have to decide what the truth most likely is.

Lawrence W. Daly
Kent, WA

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