New Yorkers have known of the phenom — so public, it has a name — ‘testilying.’
On October 10, 2017, police officer Nector Martinez walked to the stand in a Bronx courthouse. Raising his right hand, he vowed to report the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Those were lies as well.
Following a Bronx shooting, Martinez sought to explore an flat for proof. A woman, carrying a heavy laundry bag, stood in the door. According to Martinez, the woman sat the bag down in the doorway, blocking Martinez’s path.
“I plucked it up to relocate it. The bag seemed heavy,” Martinez testified. “When I sat it down, I heard a clunk. A thud.”
Martinez claimed he nudged the bag with his toe and felt something hard. Opening the bag, he found a Ruger 9-millimeter pistol and arrested the woman.
A surveillance camera in the apartment hallway caught the truth. There’s no clothes bag, or piece, in view as Martinez questioned the woman. They followed her to her apartment, which they searched, and found a weapon, but nothing to link the weapon to the woman.
If the camera had not videoed the scene in the hallway, Martinez’s testimony easily could have sent the woman, Kimberly Thomas, to prison.
When Thomas’ attorney made a motion to show the recording in court, prosecutors abandoned the case. The court, in apparent complicity, sealed the file and hid a predicament so often used the criminal justice system seldom responds with more than a nudge and a wink.
“We call it testilying,” said Pedro Serrano, a veteran New York police officer said. “You take the truth and stretch it.”
Since 2015 judges and prosecutors determined a key aspect of New York cop’s testimony was apt to be false. An inquiry by The New York Times named over 25 instances of cops twisting the facts during sworn depositions.
In the cases reviewed by The Times, cops have lied about guns, barging into apartments, searches, and other first-hand accounts. They even claimed, falsely, to have observed drug deals take place only to be revealed as liars later.
Skirt Constitutional Restrictions
Often, the motives for lying were apparent. Cops wanted to skip by the constitutional restrictions against unreasonable searches and stops. Often, the lies were aimed at convicted people — who may not have committed a crime — with false or inflated evidence.
Lying cops increases the potential of innocent persons ending up in jail. As more juries and judges view the police as less than credible, guilty persons will go free. Police lie also block judges’ attempts to enforce constitutional limits on police searches.
“We have 36,000 cops and a handful of these cases each year,” said J. Peter Donald, an NYPD spokesperson. “That doesn’t make these cases less troubling. Our goal is always zero. One instance is one too many.”
What About Martinez?
As for Martinez’s lie about the laundry bag, the prosecution’s documentation noted just “there are clear inconsistencies” between what Martinez said and the video.
“There is no bag in the doorway and at no time is Officer Martinez seen moving a bag before entering the apartment.”
By the time prosecutors dropped the case in November 2017, Thomas had sixteen court dates. On her final appearance, Thomas addressed the court, saying: “For 396 days I have been fighting for my life, m freedom and my sanity. Mine has been a journey I don’t wish on anyone.”
Martinez remained in good standing at the 41st Precinct and was promoted to detective shortly after the case was dismissed.