Looking for a tutorial on police interrogation tactics? We’ve got something better than a Law & Order rerun.
Two Norfolk police detectives brought 17-year-old Kelsey Erin Helvenston into the police station on March 22 to question her about a fatal shooting the previous day. At 10:10 p.m., the detectives turned on a camera to record six DVDs of 10 to 12 hours of questioning of the college-bound senior.
Norfolk Circuit Judge Norman Thomas said Helvenston was more “savvy” than a lot of adults and that she voluntarily waived her rights and agreed to talk. The detectives, D.R. Jarvis and R.G. Smith, did not coerce or pressure the girl, but they did employ “an array of relatively aggressive tactics” that ultimately led Helvenston to say she shot the victim, whom she called a drug dealer, when he tried to rape her.
Detective Jarvis described tactics intended to let the girl know they thought she was lying and “to convince her that her situation was a dire one,” according to Thomas’s Dec. 17 opinion in Commonwealth v. Helvenston.
The detectives dissed the victim, urged the girl not to play games, implied she was covering up for her boyfriend, pleaded with her to be honest and compared her to other persons they had met or even to members of their own families, Thomas recounted. They asked her to consider her future, described “at length” the hardships of prison life, spilled some details about the investigation, “implored her not to be heartless” and discussed the tragedy of her own father’s death at Fallujah in 2004.
Thomas was careful to point out that he knew the detectives in question as “dedicated and hard-working professionals who do not possess a reputation for acting contrary to citizens’ constitutional rights.”
But after “carefully analyzing the interplay between the increasing pressure of police interrogation tactics and the defendant’s corresponding hesitancy to continue the interview,” the judge said the balance tipped when the girl said, several hours into the interview, “I want to stop talking about it.” They should have backed off.
The court granted the motion to suppress.
By Deborah Elkins