California Man Gets $900,000 for “Psychological Torture” During a 17-hour Police Interrogation

California Man Gets $900,000 for Psychological Torture During a 17-hour Police Interrogation

Fontana, California, will pay $900,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit. The lawsuit said that police wrongly accused a man of killing his father, questioned him for 17 hours, threatened to put down his dog, and refused to give him medicine. The man eventually gave a false confession and tried to kill himself in the police station.

His dad was always living.

The San Bernardino Sun was the first to report on the case. It is a particularly bizarre example of how abusive police questioning can lead to false admissions. Reason has already written about how some states in the U.S. have made it harder for police to question children by making it illegal to lie and requiring lawyers to be present.

But as the case of Thomas Perez Jr. shows, even adults can be forced to say they did something they didn’t.

When Perez called the Fontana police in 2018, he said that his 71-year-old father, Thomas Perez Sr., had gone missing the day before while walking the family dog. The dog came back without the older Perez.

Perez Jr. agreed to talk to officers at the police station. While they were there, the cops got a search warrant for the family’s home. They thought Perez Jr. was responsible because there were small bloodstains around the house and a corpse-sniffing dog seemed to be alert.

Video of Perez Jr.’s questioning by Fontana police showed that they lied when they told him that they had already found his father’s body and that there was proof that he was the killer. His lawsuit says that he was detained by police for 17 hours and that officers scolded him, wouldn’t let him sleep, and wouldn’t let him get his medicines for asthma, depression, stress, and high blood pressure.

In an order about Perez Jr.’s case, U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California Dolly Gee summarized the video by saying, “At one point while they are telling him to confess, he starts pulling at his own hair, hitting himself, making painful noises, tearing off his own shirt, and almost falls to the floor.” “During this episode, the police laugh at him and tell him that he’s making his dog upset.” In the end, they tell him they’re giving away his dog.

In fact, Perez Jr.’s dog was brought into the questioning room so he could say goodbye to it. Then Perez admitted that he had used scissors to stab his father.

When Perez Jr. was left alone in the questioning room after confessing, he tried to hang himself with his shoelaces. He was taken from the police office to a psychiatric hospital for a short time.

The elder Perez was found living and well at Los Angeles International Airport, where he was flying to Oakland to see his daughter. The younger Perez was in the hospital.

It was in 2019 that Perez Jr. sued Fontana, saying that the Fontana police had broken his constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure and excessive force.

In the case of Frazier v. Cupp (1969), the man who was convicted of murder said that the police had lied to him during questioning because they thought that the man’s cousin had already confessed and accused him, which was not true. The Supreme Court said that this was legal.

At that time, it was thought that an adult who was mentally sound would never lie and admit to a crime. DNA testing has made it clear that this is a very real problem. The Innocence Project says that in almost 30% of DNA exonerations, false statements were used. Not even a third of those fake confessors were younger than 18 when they were caught.

While police officers are free to lie during interrogations, they are not free to harm people physically or mentally. Gee wrote that the way officers treated Perez Jr. was not in the best interest of the government.

“A reasonable juror could conclude that [the detectives] inflicted unconstitutional psychological torture on Perez,” Gee said in her summary judgment order, finding that the “tactics indisputably led to Perez’s subjective confusion and disorientation, to the point he falsely confessed to killing his father, and tried to take his own life.”

The San Bernardino Sun says that three of the Fontana police officers who were involved in Perez Jr.’s case are still working for the municipality, while one has left his job to enjoy his public salary.

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