Criminal Justice

When Cops Lie

After being falsely labeled a sexual predator, a man gets justice. But why is the officer still working?

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David Andrews was at work when the police arrived to arrest him. It was November 28, 2012, and the officers—municipal cops in Stowe, a township near Pittsburgh—told the 51-year-old transmission repair analyst that he was being detained on child predator charges. They accused him of stalking. Trying to lure a child into a motor vehicle. Corruption of a minor.

"I thought I was going to get sick and throw up right there," he later said.

The ordeal that followed would eventually lead to a court decision with serious implications for how cops can establish probable cause and when they can face civil suits for lying. But Andrews, an Air Force veteran with no prior criminal record, wasn't thinking about any of that in November 2012. He was horrified that police believed he would harm a child and terrified of what might happen next.

The Case Falls Apart

Three days prior to Andrews' arrest, a 911 dispatcher had received a call from a 15-year-old girl. She had been walking down the sidewalk, the teen said, when a dark-haired white man in his mid-thirties approached her. He was driving a red, four-door sedan with a Pennsylvania license plate containing the letters ACG. The man asked her if she wanted a ride. She said no. He demanded that she get into the car. When she told him she would call the police if he didn't leave her alone, the man sped off.

The next day, the girl and her mother thought they spotted the car again. They followed it into a nearby parking lot—that of Andrews' employer—and wrote down information about the vehicle: a red, three-door Saturn coupe with plates that read JDG4817.

They then went directly to the police station and handed their new data to Officer Robert Sciulli. He ran a background check that connected the car to David Andrews. He pulled up Andrews' license plate image and showed the girl a photo array—a lineup of possible perpetrators. The girl picked out Andrews' picture. After the girl and her mother left the station, Sciulli headed to the parking lot himself.

Details about the harasser's car, hair, age, and plate didn't match up with the initial 911 call, but Sciulli went forward anyway on the strength of the photo array identification. On November 28, Sciulli wrote an affidavit of probable cause stating that the girl had described the perpetrator—the man who tried to lure her into his car—"as a middle aged white male with dark hair with streaks of gray." He wrote that she had "identified the plate as JDG4817, PA tag" from the get-go. He wrote that she had identified the same red car "again" on the second day, when she and her mother followed it to Andrews' employer.

In other words, Sciulli lied.

There were doubts about the charges from the moment of Andrews' arrest. The arresting officer, who was not Sciulli, seemed confused about the discrepancies in how the vehicle was described. "From the side," the officer said, according to a sworn deposition Andrews would later give, "it does not match the description."

Nevertheless, Andrews was cuffed, brought before a local magistrate, and sent to Allegheny County Jail. When his case made local television news, the anchors branded him a predator; the television report credited the girl's mother for getting "David Andrews off the street."

He spent three days locked up before he could post a $5,000 bond.

Andrews then hired defense attorney Thomas Farrell, who quickly saw something wasn't right. As he investigated Andrews' case, he called the police dispatcher who took the girl's emergency call. The dispatcher had produced her own report—one that described a four-door sedan, an ACG plate, and a perpetrator in his thirties with dark hair.

It became clear that Sciulli had not told the truth. When the case went to trial in June 2013, Andrews was acquitted on all charges.

Qualified Immunity?

After his acquittal, Andrews sued Scuilli. The policeman's attorneys responded by arguing that their client had been within his rights as an officer when he wrote that deceptive affidavit.

Sciulli may have lied, the lawyers argued, but his actions were grounded in probable cause: The girl and her mother had picked Andrews out of a photo array, and they believed he had targeted the girl, even though the descriptions changed over a short window. That probable cause defense should have been enough, the lawyers claimed, to grant Sciulli qualified immunity—the safety net protecting government actors from civil liability "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."

The district court agreed. In September 2015, a federal district court judge decided in Sciulli's favor.

"Police will testify to anything," says Tim O'Brien, Andrews' civil lawyer. "And the courts, along with [district attorneys], allow it to happen all the time."

But not every court. Andrews appealed the district court's ruling, and O'Brien argued against it before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. This April—nearly five years after officers arrived at Andrews' workplace to arrest him—the Third Circuit opined in his favor.

The Third Circuit agreed that certain "misleading assertions"—lies—do not ultimately affect whether probable cause existed. But they frowned on lying to bolster a witness he himself knew to be untrustworthy. And Sciulli, the Third Circuit concluded, had plenty of reason to believe that the girl and her mother were not reliable witnesses. This was proven by Sciulli's own affidavit of probable cause, which changed or omitted at least five false facts provided by the girl and her mother in order to secure an arrest. Most importantly, it omitted that the girl and her mother had obviously described two different cars to Sciulli.

"Sciulli's omissions and misleading assertion are material to probable cause because they hid from the magisterial district judge a discrepancy that potentially undermines the sole witness' reliability," the court found.

The court sent the case back to the district court for remand.

'Always a Lingering Doubt'

The Third Circuit's decision gave new life to Andrews' civil case. By May 30, Andrews and Sciulli had come to a settlement agreement—a $400,000 payout, provided by Stowe Township's insurance company, to Andrews. He took it.

University of Chicago legal scholar William Baude, whose areas of study include the question of whether qualified immunity is illegal, calls the Third Circuit decision in Andrews' case "vulnerable." The Third Circuit's opinion might encourage courts to be "a little more and skeptical of the qualified immunity doctrine," he says, but it's not likely to change much.

Meanwhile, Sciulli has started a new job as a police officer in Scott Township, about 10 miles south of Stowe. Calls to Scott Township's police department went unanswered.

Andrews, who recently relocated to Oregon, also declined to speak with me for this story. Through O'Brien, he expressed a preference to get beyond this incident, to move on with his life. Still, O'Brien stressed how hard this case had been on Andrews.

"These accusations follow him wherever he goes to this day," O'Brien says. "And the accusations emerge out of the blue. Anyone Googling his name is going to see them. In his mind, he's now concerned that any person he's speaking to thinks he's a child predator.

"That's the insidious nature of these kinds of charges," O'Brien adds. "Once someone is charged, even if they're found not guilty, there's always a lingering doubt about whether the person may actually have done the crime for which they were accused."

And the person who actually did do the crime? Stowe Township police still haven't found him.

NEXT: Brickbat: Not Wanted

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  1. And the person who actually did do the crime? Stowe Township police still haven’t found him.

    People are so fond of moral panics, and yet they never seem to latch on to this one. A cop lied and now a case will never be solved (assuming the accuser didn’t also lie) and the town’s taxpayers had to cough up a bunch of money in the form of higher town insurance premiums. Why don’t we ever have a moral panic about lying cops and the damage they do to their own communities? It’s probably because most moral panics are driven by officials and their allies in the media.

    1. My memory says the Illinois governor commuted all death sentences to life without parole precisely because 13 death row prisoners were exonerated due to forged evidence, false testimony, etc by police, sheriffs, and prosecutors; 12 were executed. (I almost certainly have the exact figures wrong, but I’m pretty certain it was one more exoneration than execution.) I have no doubt that most of those 13 were scumbags, but it really galled me that no one seemed to give a shit that the real criminal was still unknown.

      1. Real criminals are usually unknown. Detective fiction distors our perspective. That’s why there was such a great episode of Radio Mystery Theater wherein Fred Gwynne as the inspector couldn’t solve the case. (There were plenty of suspects & a confession, but it was untrustworthy.) The next-to-last line, spoken to him was, “Are we never to know who perpetrated this crime?” He answered as the play’s last line, “Why not? It happens all the time.”

      2. The only good thing George Ryan ever did. Generations of Democrat governors and Chicago mayors have let Illinois police lie, commit perjury, plant evidence, torture people, and generally run amok. Incredibly, they’ve succeeded in getting the cop vote and the victim vote almost every time. But the (pre-Blago) poster boy for corruption actually did something about it, at great political expense. In that moment he earned from me, a shred of respect.

        1. What really galls me is that the whole Black Lives Matter business doesn’t seem to want to address this. The people steering it seem to want to concentrate on superficial (if outrageous) shit without addressing the cop culture that creates it. Maybe that’s just my impression, and I hope to hell it’s wrong.

          1. C. S. P. Schofield: “What really galls me is that the whole Black Lives Matter business doesn’t seem to want to address this.

            There is nothing to stop you starting a White Lives Matter movement to address the perceived problem.

            C. S. P. Schofield: “…seem to want to concentrate on superficial (if outrageous) shit…”

            I would be interested to find out what you see as so “superficial” about the issue of cops killing Black Americans.

            Or stopping them more Americans of other sorts.

            C. S. P. Schofield: “…without addressing the cop culture that creates it.

            How much have you done to address that particular problem?

            And BTW, why stop there? As long as White (or largely White) juries keep acquitting guilty cops why should “the cop culture” change? So how about changing the attitude in American society to cops?

            And then there is the whole issue of qualified immunity. That whole notion is an affront to justice and the rule of law–by allowing cops to get away with actions that would land anybody else in jail.

            Something as abused as qualified immunity needs to be reined in. Or better yet abolished altogether.

    2. But they tried to save at least one child? Or something like that.

    3. And elected officials who are looking to pad their tenure in office. Trotting out “protect the children” works every time.

      1. Everytime a politician want to do something to “protect” anyone, especially the children, because 9 time outta 10 its bullshit that doesnt work and costs the people in money or freedoms.

    4. It is the old “if it bleeds it leads” of news reporting. The reporter was able to be sanctimonious and parents were able to feel that their ldaughters were safe.. And five years later the truth comes out. The courts protect prosecutors, defense attorneys, and police who lie. The only crime is if you lie to them.

      1. Cops and prosecutors who lie, fake evidence, or withold evidence that might work against their case should be crimnally charged. And if the case is a capitol one, they should be charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

        Won’t happen, but it should.

    5. From the description, it is also likely that the accuser (mother or daughter) made a false accusation, either to seek attention or out of paranoia.

  2. You know what would fix police and prosecutors lying to get shady arrests and convictions?

    Make qualified immunity for police and prosecutors very easy for courts to waive because misconduct.

    Imagine if this guy was found guilty. He would have been sent to prison for a longer sentence because he took the case to trial and judges hate that. Thank goodness that a jury was paying attention and did their job to acquit this guy.

    1. Falsifying court documents is a crime and Andrews should have (probably did) demanded prosecution in his plea. Unfortunately it’s easier to get a public official to spend a million dollars of someone else’s money than to take responsibility.

    2. Anyone committing perjury, ie trying to frame somebody else, should suffer the same punishment they were trying to inflict. Frame somebody for murder, spend the rest of your life in prison. Lie to get a warrant for child molestation, end up on the sex offender registry for life.

      1. I’m not saying one way or another, but, might it not be a good idea for the likes of “Reason”? Just as a suggestion to be pondered? To publish the home address of the likes of “Officer Robert Sciulli”, now employed by “Scott Township” police department, in Penna., near Pittsburgh?
        If the likes of Robert Sciulli can get away with wreaking innocent lives, and suffer absolutely NO real consequences, maybe a bit of public shaming might help? Government Almighty here has clearly been a total failure. Maybe it’s time to consider other fixes.

      2. Except the sex offender registry isn’t supposed to be punishment, just a safety measure.

        1. Yeah but can you think of many worse punishments than to be branded a child molester wrongly? Your life would be a nightmare.

    3. If police have two perps in custody, both of whom did the crime together, the cops shouldn’t be allowed to lie to them that the other one is cutting a deal to sell out the other.

      Lying to suspects in order to trip them up shouldn’t be allowed. That’s one way they get false confessions from innocent people.

      Police shouldn’t be standing on street corners pretending to sell drugs or be prostitutes. That’s inducement to engage in illegal activity, no matter what judges claim. If they want to pretend to be the *buyer* that’s different because if the subject proffers the goods then he or she was obviously there already engaged in illegal activity.

      One cannot claim with 100% certainty that if an officer was not at a location pretending to be a criminal that a real one would have been at that location.

  3. I hate to be obtuse but was a crime committed? Is it illegal to offer a ride to a girl? I’m sure the original guy’s intentions weren’t honorable but asking someone if they want a ride then leaving when they say no doesn’t seem like a crime, it seems like maybe a stupid attempt to pick up someone who doesn’t want to be picked up.

    1. I was hoping someone would point that out. Of course, the story also says he “demanded” she get in the car (after she initially declined, I guess), and only left when it was mentioned that the police could be called. So whether or not a crime was committed might depend on the details of that “demand”.

      1. Whatever, it sure wasn’t much of a crime, if it even occurred.

  4. A clear display of the difference between the law, and justice.
    The person who lied and cause damage to an innocent man suffered no punishment. Still has has a job as a cop, lost no personal funds, nothing.
    The innocent man is branded for life as a child predator, and most people will assume a real child not a mature teenager. He has had to relocate, and change his whole life.
    The girl will never have the true seducer found.

    There should be ‘social persuasion’ to get web sites to purge false data, when found false by a court at least. Good luck with that.

    1. All the TV news and news papers that ran reports and articles should be required to run retractions with the same prominence that the accusers and officer lied and that Andrews was not guilty of anything.

  5. And the person who actually did do the crime? Stowe Township police still haven’t found him.

    I’m sure the Stowe Township PD is convinced they did find the guy. Sure, they had no actual evidence and that’s why they had to frame him to secure a conviction, but they know. Cops know these things. And that’s how you solve crimes, find the likeliest or handiest suspect you can pin it on and there you go. It helps if there’s a nearby black guy with priors.

  6. In September 2015, a federal district court judge decided in Sciulli’s favor.

    One would think judges wouldn’t take kindly to being lied to.

    1. That’s why he found in the cop’s favor, because to do otherwise would be to admit the cop lied and he fell for it.

  7. Cops cannot be trusted. Cops lie all the time and everywhere. They lie for no reason other than that they can get away with it. They lie, lie, lie, and lie again. They lie on their arrest reports, they lie in court, they lie to get a brother cop out of a jam. They lie with abandon. They lie with aplomb. They lie with sincerity. It’s the first lesson in police academy: “How to lie sincerely.” This is the reason you never, never trust a cop. Every word out of their mouths is a lie. And if they don’t like being called a bunch of scum-bag liars, let’s see them call out their fellows when they know they’re lying.

    That will never happen. Why? Because cops have NO integrity, NO honor, NO ethics, NO morals. Well, Perhaps they do have a bit of honor, that which is referred to as “honor among thieves”.
    After all, even the disreputable and unethical adhere to certain moral codes among themselves. Cops also have their code: 1) Never tell the truth about a fellow cop. 2) Take your cut and keep your mouth shut.

    1. It’s like everyone always claims to be the sausage king of Chicago!

    2. I was the victim of a crime once- my daughter and I were assaulted by a truck driver- and the cop still lied to us and everyone else every step of the way. His motivation? It was the end of the shift and to watch our videos of the crime would have meant a whole lotta paperwork for him. Instead, we were threatened with arrest to shut us up and the perpetrator was told to go about his business.

  8. RICO these motherfuckers in federal court. These state actors ,District Attorneys and Police Chiefs, are covering up the criminal actions of their associates in an ongoing and systematic manner for the financial gain and benefit of the members of the organization.

  9. And the person who actually did do the crime? Stowe Township police still haven’t found him.

    Andrews’ case obviously produced a chilling effect on law enforcement in Stowe. Will their insurance have to pay out to every innocent man they choose to shoddily prosecute based solely on the devious machinations of their lazy officers? Better to just concentrate on watching for people rolling through stop signs.

    1. F0E-
      Seriously, there is no downside to traffic enforcement from their perspective.

  10. Andrews, who recently relocated to Oregon, also declined to speak with me for this story. Through O’Brien, he expressed a preference to get beyond this incident, to move on with his life. Still, O’Brien stressed how hard this case had been on Andrews.

    It’d be interesting to know what the guy thinks of the criminal justice system now and what he thought of it before. The “just keep your head down and your mouth shut” attitude is understandable but no less disappointing, I’ve been saying for years that the loss of faith in the rule of law is going to hit a tipping point at some point and when a sufficient number of people realize the system is rigged……well, there are rules to how you go about changing the system but when one side’s not following the rules it’d be kinda foolish for the other side to follow the rules, wouldn’t it? What is that they say about the soap box, the ballot box, the jury box and the ammo box?

  11. Not sure it applies in this case, but I think the local press are enablers. They don’t want to lose access to stories and tips from cops.

    My wife was in a fender bender once (a newspaper employee bumped her in a parking lot.) A cop showed up and basically said “no harm, no foul” and left. My wife, in getting the car repaired and getting insurance to cover it, had to act quickly to get everything lined up, i.e. getting the police to say that yes, there was an accident and who was at fault, etc.

  12. At least Hammurabi’s code would have been more just than the current system, especially regarding these situations.

    Someone willing to falsify police documents in order to frame another should face whatever punishment their victim would have faced. This would clear up a lot of police misconduct I think.

    1. Dicks out for Hammurabi.

  13. “And the person who actually did do the crime? Stowe Township police still haven’t found him.”

    ***Assumes facts not in evidence. Namely that what the girl says actually happened. Also, that it was a crime.

  14. Part of the settlement should have included having his record expunged, regardless the cost.

    1. Expungement doesn’t mean much anymore. Employers are going to google prospective employees as a matter of course and see he was charged. They may or may not look deeply enough to find out what happened five years later. And of course, it took five years to get anything like justice.

  15. It has been my opinion for a long time now that any crime committed by a judge, prosecutor, attorney, cop, or member of the Legislature should automatically by law have all penalties doubled.

    1. Or perhaps something involving woodchippers.

  16. I wouldn’t worry. There must be a bazillion David Andrews, nobody’s going to think he’s the one accused.

  17. When the copper swears his statements are true and correct to the best of his knowledge as he asks for the arrest warrant, if that information to which he has just attested later is proven false, WHY is he not charged with perjury? That is the title of the crime of lying under oath. It is also generally a felony crime, enough to remove a man’s right to arms, and to preclude his working in law enforcement. In other words he now has a criminal record.
    In this case, the cop suffered no real consequences, as the city’s insurance company paid off his falsely accused and arreste victim. This is NOT right.

    The biblical penalty for bearing false witness is for the false accuser to suffer the same fate his victim did or would suffer had the false statements been true. In other words, this dirty copper SHOULD have been given the full sentence which could have been laid upon his victim, the supposed child molester.

    Further, what about that pair of ugly females that concocted their story falsely to implicate an innocent man? Did THEY face any consequences? Don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer…. I already know.

    And that is part of the problem. Folks can lie with impunity. And get off with it.

  18. In college, I worked in a fast food joint across from the municipal court house. A prosecutor, DA used to come in for lunch and we had interesting conversations. He confided in me that cops were his worst enemies as a prosecutor, which made no sense to me.

    But, he explained, cops are of the mindset that they can never be wrong. So, they’ll lie or exaggerate rather than admitting they don’t know, are unsure or don’t remember.

    So when a good defense attorney gets his wack at a cop and asks the cop something the cop is unsure of or doesn’t know, and usually something minor and not even germane to the case, rather than admitting he didn’t know or was unsure, the cop would lie full of bravado. And the defense attorney would bring that lie via further evidence to the attention of the courtroom. Which this DA said blew all credibility of the cops testimony which was often key to the case. And thus, the prosecution would lose, the perp would walk free, and idiot cop would say the justice system was broken. All due to the cops failure to testify truthfully.

  19. What a lot of us really want is to see cops held to the same standards as ordinary citizens. Thanks to qualified immunity, and state and federal statutes, this cannot happen. Even in those rare cases where cops are actually prosecuted, jury instruction, based upon immunities and statutes, prevent conviction. The justice we seek can only come from a major overhaul of our legal system (not gonna happen), or jury nullification (also not gonna happen).

  20. I hate cops that tell blatant lies just to make an arrest, what the hell is wrong with people like that?

  21. witness identification is so often wrong if that’s all you have it should never proceed any further.

  22. Gotta love how REASON tends to leave out what could be exculpatory information, to make it seem like a police officer “lied”.
    Put yourself in his position: You are on duty when a mother and daughter come in with the story of what had happened three days before and their subsequent viewing of “the same” car. You can bet the mother and daughter didn’t tell the officer that her description, from when she called 911, was different.
    So comes the pertinent question: WAS IT STANDARD FOR AN OFFICER TAKING A REPORT TO CHECK THE ACCURACY OF THE REPORT HE GETS WITH THE DESCRIPTION GIVEN ON A 911 CALL?
    He had the victim’s statement that the car was “the same” and her identifying the guy from a photo line-up.
    Where was it shown that the cop ever knew that her description changed? He’s going on what he has been told.
    He just initiated the arrest. It was up to the prosecutors and their investigators to look deeply into the evidence and determine whether to go ahead with a trial. THAT’S WHO SCREWED UP, HERE.

  23. I am actually surprised that an arrest was made three days after the fact, without first presenting the case to prosecutors. Clearly the guy accused wasn’t going anywhere. WHAT WAS THE PROTOCOL?
    Too much blame is heaped on the cops, when the real decisions about going to trial, and evaluating evidence, including if the officer is making stuff up, that won’t align with the other facts, is from prosecuting attorneys, who are the shaft of the spear of the justice system. The cop is just the tip.
    In this case, the justice system worked in that the guy was acquitted. Media exposure of someone, “innocent until proven guilty” isn’t the cop’s fault.
    As for all the comments about how cops “Lie all the time”; it sure is good you people all know the real truth.

  24. Oh my, if asking a woman who is sexually mature (yes, a 15 year old is sexually mature, just read up on marriage records a few generations ago) if she wants a ride, then I am guilty of this as well, as I and a friend of mine used this as an excuse to try and pick up women at Daytona Beach Spring Break.

    1. Ah! The good ole days when people weren’t obsessively minding other people’s business and 15 y.o.’s were assumed to have a measure of personal responsibility.

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