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Texas Police Interrogations: Constitutional Protections Exist, Do You Know Your Rights Should Police Question You?

Police interrogations happen all the time here in Dallas, and over in Fort Worth as well as the rest of Texas and around the country. Texas law enforcement officers (troopers, police officers, deputies) arrest people then interrogate them and take people into interrogation rooms for questioning as part of crime investigation routinely. These actions are allowed constitutionally under their police powers; however, what can happen during a police interrogation is supposed to follow certain legal requirements and more often than not, they are undertaken while being recorded via video or audio.

handcuffs, public domain imageWhich brings us to the story this week here in Dallas of Hephzibah Olivia Lord, who sued and won a civil lawsuit against a Dallas police detective for false arrest, reportedly in large part because the jury found that the detective had acted with malice (a legal term here) during his interrogation of Lord after she was arrested on a charge of murdering her boyfriend. Lord has just been awarded $800,000 in a jury verdict from a Dallas jury that has found Lord to be the victim of false arrest.

In Lord’s case, while she was arrested by Dallas police it was soon shown that there was no murder; her boyfriend had committed suicide. Lord was released. However, Lord wasn’t done with the situation and after she was released, she filed her civil lawsuit for damages. Her fight for justice here began around 3 years ago and ended with last week’s jury verdict.

Detective Dwayne Thompson Interrogation of Ms. Lord Held to be Malicious

The Dallas Police Department is featured in a national reality TV show on the A&E network called “The First 48,” (maybe you’ve seen it — if not, watch episodes here) and the detective who interrogated Hephzibah Olivia Lord in a manner that justified Lord’s civil suit for damages was Dallas Detective Dwayne Thompson, who has been seen frequently on this A&E show.

Thompson’s interrogation of Lord was videotaped. The jury watched it.

In the taped interrogation, the detective asks Lord some general questions about what happened on the night that her boyfriend died then Thompson changed things up. According to news reports and witness testimony of what happened in that interrogation room, Thompson suddenly became aggressive in his questioning, yelling accusations at a weeping Lord, things like “You shot him! You did! You did!” (For a more complete description of the interrogation, check out Dallas Morning News coverage from the day that the jury was shown the interrogation videotape.)

The Hephzibah Olivia Lord by Detective Dwayne A. Thompson lasted for hours. Lord was accused of murder countless times, and she always denied it. Lord explained again and again that while she was in the bathroom, her boyfriend shot himself (they had been fighting, he was drunk).

An expert witness with expertise as both a retired officer and homicide detective from the same police department, testified on Lord’s behalf. Basing an opinion on over 30 years with the Dallas Police Department, Kim Sanders explained that the Lord interrogation was intimidation, not questioning, and as Thompson handled the questioning it was a textbook example of how police can get false confessions.

Not only that, Sanders also pointed out Thompson’s failure to read Ms. Lord her Miranda rights including specifically her right to remain silent after it was clear that Thompson considered Lord to be a suspect in a crime.

Lord was charged with murder a month after her boyfriend shot himself. The arrest was based upon Thompson’s affidavit. Lord spent 9 days in jail before a Dallas Grand Jury refused to indict her for the crime.

False Interrogations and Coerced Confessions

Some are arguing that Lord has won this jury verdict because Detective Thompson used a controversial form of interrogation method called the “Reid method” of questioning. In this interrogation method, it’s deemed acceptable to manipulate through accusations of guilt through an aggressive protocol of nine steps. It’s psychological pressure as opposed to physical force, however many believe that the result, coercion, can be the same even though no blows are struck.

The Reid method has been challenged as being primed for pushing people to give false confessions and many argue that it should not be used by law enforcement agencies.

In Texas, both federal and state laws exist to protect people like Hephzibal Olivia Lord from being overwhelmed and mistreated by police during criminal investigations. These laws are especially important when those being questioned are already emotionally reeling from the events themselves — like Ms. Lord who first dealt with the discovery of her boyfriend’s body, calling 911 for help, and that loss — then to face questioning by police while vulnerable and upset — like Lord’s being questioned by Thompson as if she had committed a crime for several hours.

Individuals have a right to counsel when they are being questioned, this is part of the Miranda warning. However, the police may or may not let the person know about this right (remember the expert’s concerns that Thompson had not told Lord about her right to a lawyer).

If you have or may be questioned by the police, know your rights.

For more information, see Michael Lowe’s Things to Know if You are Being Investigated for a Crime in Texas and our blog post “Salinas v. Texas: Your Silence During Police Interrogation Does Not Get 5th Amendment Protection, Can Be Used Against You As Evidence Of Guilt To The Jury.“

 


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