Emeritus Professor of Mathematics
Michigan State University
The evidence strongly suggests that Efrén Paredes, Jr.'s version of what actually occurred during the time he was alone in a police car with the arresting officer in his case, former Berrien County Sheriff's Department detective William Tucker, is far more credible than the one Tucker falsified for the following reasons:
(1) According to one of Efrén's former high school teachers, "Those who knew Efrén then knew he didn't use the word 'ain't' or the language Tucker claimed. He respected authority and was never offensive to adults. That's not the student or kind of person he was."
(2) There is no audio recording of the exchange Efrén and Tucker in the police car. Tucker could have easily recorded their drive to the jail, particularly since they were alone, if he was concerned about protecting the integrity of anything that was said. He purposely placed Efrén in the front seat of his police car and didn't have anyone accompany them to avoid having any witnesses present.
(3) Tucker's decision to place Efrén in the front seat of the police car next to him was calculated and deliberate so he could attempt to engage him in conversation. Police do not seat murder suspects in the front seat with them. Tucker clearly had a motive for breaking with normal practice and doing so.
(4) Efrén knew not to talk to police outside the presence of an attorney well before his arrest. Further, he informed Tucker he had an attorney from the moment of his arrest in the presence of his family and again when they were alone in the car.
(5) During Efrén's trial before a packed courtroom he testified under oath that he did not kill the victim in his case and he had no role in the crime.
(6) After his trial and conviction Efrén spoke to two men from the probation department who interviewed him to prepare a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report for his sentencing judge. When asked to describe his version of the crime, according to the report Efrén responded, "I didn't do anything to be arrested. I am being charged for something I didn't do and had no part of."
(7) At his sentencing hearing when asked by the judge if he had anything to say to the court prior to receiving his sentence Efrén stated, "I don't believe I should be sentenced for something I didn't do."
(8) There have been numerous complaints against Tucker by people he arrested in the past claiming he engaged in various forms of misconduct in their cases. Common complaints have included him falsifying statements attributed to them, and using threats and intimidation to coerce people into making statements.
(9) In hundreds of interviews with various television, print, and radio media outlets during his 31-year incarceration Efrén has denied committing the crime and Tucker's false claims, and has remained consistent about what actually occurred that day. He also did so at a nine-and-a-half hour 2008 public hearing when he was seeking a commutation of his sentence under a barrage of questioning from five parole board members and an Assistant Attorney General.
(10) During his time at the Berrien County Sheriff's Department Tucker was suspended for insubordination. In a 1997 lawsuit it was also revealed:
"Tucker was demoted to sergeant in connection with misconduct involving two [police] informants. ... Tucker admitted to having sexual relations with the second informant[.]" (Mata v. County of Berrien, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19344, 13 (W.D. Mich 1997))
Throughout his employment with the Berrien County Sheriff's Department, and since his early departure from the department in 2005, Tucker has been embroiled in various controversies according to stories featured in local newspapers.
Tucker's lack of good judgment, abuse of authority, and credibility gap are clear in his mishandling of Efrén's arrest and mistreatment of a vulnerable 15-year-old boy. It is further evident in the way Tucker performed his duties in other cases and abused his position as a police officer to take advantage of vulnerable people.
His actions are clearly at odds with being an honest, credible public servant, and his conduct in Efrén's case rises to the level of corruption and committing fraud upon the court by knowingly providing false testimony to the court.
"Police corruption refers to dishonest and illegal acts by police officers. These actions may range from stealing evidence to perjury and obstruction of justice." (Laurie L. Levenson, "Police Corruption and New Models for Reform," 35 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 1 (2001))
In her academic journal article, "Bias in Blue: Instructing Jurors to Consider the Testimony of Police Officer Witnesses with Caution," 44 Pepp. L. Rev. 245, 263-64 (2017), Vida B. Johnson, Visiting Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, writes:
"Police officers are also interested parties; the motivations to lie, shade the truth, and protect colleagues exist. Just like a witness seeking a reward or a witness with some other interest in the case, police officers often have financial, career, ideological, or institutional interests at play, particularly in certain types of cases."
She adds, "Although it may reveal a 'dismal' side of our criminal justice system to acknowledge these biases, ignoring police officer bias does not make it go away."
Substantial evidence demonstrates that police perjury is so prevalent that scholars have characterized it as a "subcultural norm rather than an individual aberration." (Stephen W. Gard, "Bearing False Witness: Perjured Affidavits and the Fourth Amendment," 41 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 445, 448 (2008))
"Blue lies are so pervasive that even former prosecutors have described them as 'commonplace' and 'prevalent.'" (Myron W. Orfield, Jr., "Deterrence, Perjury, and the Heater Factor," 63 U. Colo. L. Rev. 75, 107 (1992))
Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in one survey expressed their belief that perjury is present in approximately twenty percent of all cases. A separate survey of police officers was even more troubling. "Seventy-six percent of responding officers agreed that officers shade the facts to establish probable cause; forty-eight percent believed judges were often correct in disbelieving police testimony." (Myron W. Orfield, Jr., "The Exclusionary Rule and Deterrence," 54 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1016, 1050-51 & n.129 (1987))
Of the dozens of people who witnessed Efrén speaking to any member of law enforcement or testifying in court, no one other than Tucker falsely claims that Efrén made any statement contrary to him denying he committed the crime or had an attorney. Tucker sought to be a hero in the case by being the sole person able to extract a statement from Efrén that would be prejudicial in some way.
It is a technique routinely used by police to bolster their claims and make a case stronger than it was previously to boost the appearance of their success rates. Some of the ways police do this is by:
"Claiming to have heard a confession or an out-of-context condemning statement, recovering weapons or other evidence planted in a particular location, obscuring evidence that points to someone else, or hiding evidence of the suspect's innocence." (Christopher Slobogin, Professor of Law & Alumni Research Scholar, University of Florida College of Law, "Testilying: Police Perjury and What to Do About It," 67 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1037, (996))
Sadly, events like this occur far too often in cities across America. And it occurs most often between encounters with white officers and black and brown youth. In Efrén's case he is Latino and Tucker is white; as were all the investigating police in his case.
According to Lupe S. Salinas, retired Criminal Court Judge in Houston, Texas, and a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Texas, who serves as a Professor of Law at Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law:
"The mistreatment of Latinos by law enforcement has been extensive. However, for whatever reasons, media coverage has been minimal." (Lupe S. Salinas, "Lawless Cops, Latino Injustice, and Revictimization by the Justice System," 2018 Mich. St. L. Rev. 1095, 1128 (2018))
Since 2009 an alarming number of police officers have been identified as members of white supremacist groups. Professor Vida B. Johnson, Georgetown Law School, writes, "In that same period, there have been scandals in over 100 different police departments, in 49 different states where individuals have sent overtly racist emails, texts, or made racist comments via social media."
She adds, "[S]ome of these shocking occurrences have involved high-ranking members of their respective police forces." ("KKK in the PD: White Supremacist Police and What To Do About It," 23 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 205, 210 (2019))
This troubling number is in addition to scores of widely documented instances of racism that have been committed by police officers against communities of color for decades while performing their routine job duties before the advent of the digital sphere.
Purveyors of racism are able to express themselves more openly today by hiding behind blue screens giving them a false sense of anonymity across a panoply of platforms. Proliferation of the digital evidence in recent years has only made it easier to expose the prevalence of this activity.
Though most members of law enforcement strive to perform their duty with integrity there are always rogue actors seeking to fulfill personal goals and hidden agendas. "Our nation has experienced a regrettable history of lawlessness among a significant minority of police officers." (Salinas, supra, at 1213).
Reporting on the frequency of police officers arrested for committing crimes, one study found that "During 2005-2012, 10,787 individual non-federal sworn law enforcement officers with general powers of arrest faced criminal charges." (Philip M. Stinson, Associate Professor, Bowling Green St. Univ., Presentation at the 2017 Urban Elected Prosecutors Summit: "Police Shootings Data: What We Know and What We Don't Know" 12 (Apr. 20, 2017))
This astonishing number is significant because police corruption results in wrongful convictions across the country. According to the National Registry of Exonerations website there have been 2,434 documented exonerations as of May 5, 2019. (NAT'L REGISTRY OF EXONERATIONS, www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/about.aspx (last visited May 5, 2019)).
"Wrongful conviction estimates, calculated from different methods, range from 0.03 to 15% of felony convictions." (Rossmo & Pollock, supra, at 796). Of the 2,434 cases that have been exonerated nationwide over 100 of them have occurred in the State of Michigan.
Though Tucker is woefully emblematic of police corruption he is only a small part of the overall problem pervasive in police departments across America. Most police officers strive to do the right thing. But as long as a culture referred to as the "Blue Wall of Silence" persists, even good cops will be degraded by the pernicious actions of the minority.
We have to work collectively to prevent police corruption, cast a light on its incidents, and restore integrity in the criminal justice system or run the risk of the few bad apples narrative becoming one that depicts a rotten orchard. If we don't, we run the risk of becoming the next Efrén Paredes, Jr. handcuffed sitting in a car next to a rogue cop like William Tucker.
It's a nightmare scenario any law-abiding citizen -- or 15-year-old kid -- can ill-afford to encounter without risking the loss of unwarranted decades of their freedom.
(To learn more about the case of Efrén Paredes, Jr. or how you can support his campaign for justice visit http://fb.com/Free.Efren or http://Bitly.com/FreeEfren.)