Corruption

CSI: Nebraska

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In 2006, rural Nebraska couple Wayne and Sharmon Stock were killed with shotgun blasts to the head.  Early on, the police honed in on Matt Livers and Nick Sampson, cousins of the slain couple.  During a heated interrogation, Cass County Sheriff's Investigator Earl Schenk told the mentally-handicapped Livers that unless he confessed, Schenk would do everything in his power to be sure Livers was executed, threatening to "do my level best to hang your ass from the highest tree." 

Livers eventually confessed, implicating himself and Sampson in a crime they didn't commit.  According to a lawsuit since filed by Livers, investigators then spoon-fed him details about the crime scene, eliciting from him a narrative that fit the one police had in mind.

Cass County investigators then called in David Kofoed, commander of the Crime Scene Investigation unit for Nebraska's Douglas County.  According to the Omaha World-Herald, Kofoed is an active self-promoter, making his CSI unit available to other police agencies in Nebraska around the clock.  His unit has contracts with 45 police agencies in Nebraska and Iowa. 

The problem is, an initial search of the alleged getaway car conducted by Kofoed's staff turned up no incriminating biological evidence against Livers or Sampson. Some time later, on his own initiative, Kafoed went back to the alleged getaway car and conducted a second search.  His report at the time says he did the second search alone.  He has since insisted that he made a mistake in the report, and that one of his subordinates was with him.  Miraculously, on this second search, Kofoed found a tiny speck of victim Wayne Stock's blood on the car's steering column.

That and Matt Livers' confession could well have resulted in a death sentence for Livers and Sampson.  Except that days after Kofoed found the incriminating speck of blood, two Wisconsin teenagers were arrested for the Stocks' murders.  They had no tie to Livers and Sampson.  And their car was crawling with the Stocks' DNA.

An internal investigation cleared Kofoed and his unit of any wrongdoing.  But the FBI is now conducting its own investigation, and according to Kofoed himself, they're more skeptical.  Kofoed told the World-Herald that FBI agents told him his explanations for how one victim's blood ended up in the ultimately vindicated suspects' car "didn't pass the smell test."

Kofoed and his unit are back on the job, and will continue to work new cases while the FBI continues its investigation.

Whether Kofoed is corrupt or he or Cass County police are merely incompetent, the case is a good lesson in skepticism.  A confession that include details about the crime scene coupled with the victim's blood in the suspects' car sounds like a pretty solid case. That is, until you start to understand how police can coerce false confessions and then, even unintentionally, impart to suspects details about the crime—as well as how easily crime scenes can be either accidentally contaminated, or manipulated by people on the inside eager to secure a conviction.

But for the good fortune of police finding the Wisconsin teens, Sampson and Livers would likely have been convicted, and probably sentenced to death.

(Hat tip to David Tarrell and Mark Draughn.)

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  1. Livers eventually confessed, implicating himself and Stock

    Himself and Sampson, don’t you mean?

  2. Cass County Sheriff’s Investigator Earl Schenk told the mentally-handicapped Livers that unless he confessed, Schenk would do everything in his power to be sure Schenk was executed,

    I’ve heard of “suicide by cop”, but I’m guessing this is not an example of such.

  3. This case demonstrates that one should never, ever trust any LEO. Just too corrupt and rotten to the core.

    The case also reminds us that the administration of justice should not remain within the exclusive realm of the public sector.

  4. Himself and Sampson, don’t you mean?

    Yep. Thanks — fixed.

  5. The first thing we do is kill all the thugs of Caesar. What a collection of losers. Look at me -I wear Caesar’s uniform-I’m important.

  6. His report at the time says he did the second search alone. He has since insisted that he made a mistake in the report, and that one of his subordinates was with him. Miraculously, on this second search, Kofoed found a tiny speck of victim Wayne Stock’s blood on the car’s steering column.

    This sounds like a frame job straight out of Dexter. Just one more article I have to email to my friends and family who think the police are almost always in the right and would never lie just to bag anyone in order to say they got their man.

  7. Big Picture, people. We need to establish ctiizen liberty brigades to check law enforcement. We would be much safer.

  8. Remember, the constitution does not ordain that the government has a so-called “police power” nor does it provide that the government shall have a monopoly on the adminstration of justice.

  9. Over the holiday weekend I watched the oldie but goodie, “In the Name of the Father”. Some stories just never lose their relevance.

  10. Why the heck anyone would EVER talk to a cop much less answer questions from a cop without an attorney present is beyond me!

    jes
    http://www.privacy.es.tc

  11. But- it’s so much easier to work backwards from your assumptions.

  12. Radley-

    Are you planning a post about the dueling drug pieces (John Waters vs Ethan Nadelmann) in honor of Repeal Day at the WSJ?

    I just read them- believe it or not, I thought Nadelmann’s made more sense.

  13. There is no incompetence in this case. Incompetence is the inability to do the job properly. This is misconduct in that you pretty much to willfully decide to plant evidence and coerce a retarded guy into confessing.

  14. I was going to drink tonight anyway, but damn, Radley, now i’m probably gonna break some shit too.

  15. I think it’s worthwhile to note here that in the case of LEO’s, you should always attribute their actions to BOTH malice and incompetence.

    Now, why they have to be maliciously incompetent and not incompetently malicious is another question.

  16. Are you planning a post about the dueling drug pieces (John Waters vs Ethan Nadelmann) in honor of Repeal Day at the WSJ?

    Just to let the Reasonoids know, WSJ, asswipes that they are, requires a subscription.

  17. Just one more case that backs up my proposal that all police interrogations should be viddied. In their entirety. Required by law.

  18. Jsub-

    I read them with no subscription; post-Murdoch, not all WSJ content is restricted to subscribers.

  19. Oh posh! There’s no sure way to tell if a Nebraskan is mentally handicapped…

  20. Confessions resulting from interrogation should be inadmissible unless the entirety of interrogation has been videotaped – with date and time stamps.

  21. I believe ya.
    Where’s the linky-link?
    [/Miss Manners, internet version 1.2]

  22. But for the good fortune of police finding the Wisconsin teens, Sampson and Livers would likely have been convicted, and probably sentenced to death.

    And two murderers would still be free to wreak havoc. I’ll repeat what I’ve said earlier: why don’t cops like this just drop all pretense of investigation, and find the “guilty” party by picking names out of a hat?

  23. J sub D beat me to it. Occasion #742 where time spent composing becomes time wasted.

  24. why don’t cops like this just drop all pretense of investigation, and find the “guilty” party by picking names out of a hat?

    Because Andy Breckman has a patent on that method of operation, as shown in the WFMU video “Dead Air”. He doesn’t even let his Monk use it.

  25. I only have one problem with this article, and it is the statement that: “But for the good fortune of police finding the Wisconsin teens…” It was not “good fortune” that caused the true perpetrators to be found. It was the continued investigative work of the same agency that has now been accused of misconduct. Whatever the conduct of the Investigator who wrongly implicated these two men, it should also be noted that it was Nebraska law enforcement who exonerated them, and who first exposed the situation that is now giving Nebraska law enforcement such a black eye. It is always good to keep a close eye on potential police misconduct, but in doing so, you should not discount good police conduct as incidental “good fortune.” When a defense lawyer exonerates an innocent man who has been imprisoned, he is portrayed as a hero. Although it is the job of police to exonerate the innocent, and therefore not necessarily heroic, you should at least give credit where credit is due.

  26. Same comments basically as I made about the Radley article about swat teams. This is the exception that proves the rule – they get the most dunderheaded lab liar, but most of the time the inconsistencies go unnoticed and uncommented upon.

  27. This is why we need groups like the Innocence Project.

    http://www.innocenceproject.org/

    Also, I like the idea of J sub D and T-bone about videotaping confessions. Perhaps they could videotape crimescene investingations as well, and we could see for ourselves just how Kofoed “found” that drop of the victims’ blood.

    Kofoed and his unit are back on the job, and will continue to work new cases while the FBI continues its investigation.

    WTF? The prepodenence of evidence is that he fabricated evidence, or at least screwed up in a manner that could have resulted in disaster. I hope the defense attorneys do their job, and cast doubt on the credibility of the evidence this guy presents.

  28. Although it is the job of police to exonerate the innocent, and therefore not necessarily heroic, you should at least give credit where credit is due.

    How much credit is due the Nebraska police force whose “internal investigation cleared Kofoed and his unit of any wrongdoing?” I’m glad to know there’s at least one honest cop in Nebraska, but an organization that finds nothing wrong with its members’ planting evidence and bullying false confessions out of a retarded man deserves no credit for institutional honesty.

  29. “The problem is, an initial search of the alleged getaway car conducted by Kofoed’s staff turned up no incriminating biological evidence against Livers or Sampson. Some time later, on his own initiative, Kafoed went back to the alleged getaway car and conducted a second search. His report at the time says he did the second search alone. He has since insisted that he made a mistake in the report, and that one of his subordinates was with him. Miraculously, on this second search, Kofoed found a tiny speck of victim Wayne Stock’s blood on the car’s steering column. ”

    Yet another example that indicates, as Radley has suggested on many occasions, that making the CSI types an independent agency from the police all the more necessary. This is classic “get ’em”. That the internal investigation found nothing wrong is bone headed.

  30. Kofoed needs to Ko-FOAD!!!

  31. Early on, the police honed in on…

    The word you want here is homed, my homey.

  32. I started noticing “hone in” years ago with Howard A. Stern’s use of it, and I thought it was a mistake for “home in” as well. Then a prominent consultant pointed out that the metaphor might refer to getting a blade just right by successive approximations of grinding.

  33. I forgot to point out that in the context Stern used it in, he might’ve meant “horn in”. It might’ve been one of those neologisms that comes about when someone is hung up between two words, starts to say one, and winds up combining them that way. It regarded the behavior of someone both horning his way in where others were already engaged and homing in on his target.

    And then maybe others heard Stern and liked it. He’s influential and much imitated.

  34. What good would it be for the police to video their own interrogations? I am sure the good Mr Kofoed’s forensics team has the latest in video editing equipment in order for the recorded interrogations to be “right” when the time comes for their being played back.

    How many times have patrol car videos become “lost” or “garbled” when some gang member in blue drags some hapless motorist out of a car and clubs the daylights out of them?

  35. “Big Picture, people. We need to establish ctiizen liberty brigades to check law enforcement. We would be much safer.”

    I like the idea, but…

    Wouldn’t Liberty Brigades be regarded as homegrown terrorists and disappeared to Gitmo?

  36. Mr kofoed staff member found the real suspects and mr kofoed did not know what to do……….now whats he going to do??????????

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