VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) – Virginia Beach Police have used fake documents linking the DNA of people to a crime to trick them into confessing or cooperating with investigators, the outgoing Virginia attorney general said on Wednesday.

The city’s police department changed its policy following the state’s investigation, Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. In a separate statement, the city said it ended the practice in May after conducting its own investigation, but called the tactic legal.

Virginia Beach Police serve a town of approximately 450,000 people along the state coast. Officers used false reports claiming to be from the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences at least five times during questioning between 2016 and 2020, Herring’s office said.

The fake pieces of paper included a state agency seal and letterhead, the AG’s office said. In two cases, the documents included the signature of a fictitious employee of the ministry, and in at least one case, a false report was presented to a court as evidence, the attorney general’s office said.

Herring’s office did not say whether the use of forged documents would invalidate the confessions obtained as a result, or otherwise affect the cases in which they were used.

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“It was an extremely disturbing and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the Commonwealth’s name to try to force a confession,” Herring said.

He said while he appreciates the ministry’s ending the practice “and cooperating with our investigation, this is clearly a tactic that should never have been used.”

The strategy was uncovered last year after a prosecutor asked the Department of Forensic Sciences to provide a certified copy of a document that police said came from the department. The AG’s Civil Rights Office launched an investigation and then proposed a “conciliation agreement” to stop the practice and reform the department’s policies.

Virginia Beach city council accepted the changes on Tuesday, Herring said. They include an order from the police department requiring all sworn personnel to stop using false certificates of analysis from the state agency. Detectives must also recognize and commit to following the order.

The terms of the deal will remain in effect for at least two years, the state said. The Civil Rights Office will inform those interviewed with forged documents.

Herring, a Democrat, will leave the GA office this weekend, and Republican Jason Miyares, who beat Herring in the election last year, will take over.

In a statement, the city of Virginia Beach said its police department “has taken immediate and proactive steps to address this very limited interrogation technique which they believe, while legal, is not within the scope of the law. spirit of what the community expects “.

The department’s investigation examined 9,600 criminal cases and “found a total of five cases over a five-year period … where replica inauthentic certificates were used,” city officials said.

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