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A Times Editorial

Officers' inquiry out of bounds

The two internal affairs detectives from the St. Petersburg Police Department who tried to question Nicholas Lindsey without his lawyer present are either poorly trained or intentionally violating Lindsey's constitutional rights. Either way, the Police Department needs to put a stop to such fishing expeditions.

Lindsey is accused of killing St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford in February, after Crawford stopped the 16-year-old while investigating a call about a suspicious person. Police allege that Lindsey pulled out a semiautomatic weapon and shot and killed the officer, and they say he has confessed. But the gun has never been found.

Last week, two officers visited Lindsey at the Pinellas County Jail. Lindsey's lawyer, Dyril Flanagan, claims they demanded to know "where's the gun?" and left when Lindsey told them to speak with his lawyer. Police spokesman Bill Proffitt says the officers were conducting an internal affairs investigation. He claims they didn't ask Lindsey about the murder weapon.

But Proffitt's explanation doesn't make much difference, and the officers' purpose for the interrogation is irrelevant. They simply should not have contacted Lindsey without going through his attorney. Rules that guarantee a suspect the right to have counsel present have been in place more than 40 years. Lindsey even had a letter in his jail file giving police formal notice that he wanted no contact with them unless his lawyer was there.

When police ignore this kind of explicit instruction, it can jeopardize the prosecution of a case in unpredictable ways, since the evidence it might produce can't be used at trial. No wonder Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett properly criticized the officers' actions.

Even more concerning is the complaint raised by Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger that police try this kind of thing all the time. If true, St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon has some retraining to do. Suspects can choose to waive their rights and talk with police without counsel, but that must come of their own initiative and not because police visited them in jail to cajole cooperation.

Officers' inquiry out of bounds 04/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 7:29pm]
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