A fake crime lab report that already cost the city of San Jose years of court battles and lost time will now take $150,000 to settle. San Jose will likely use cash from its liability claims reserve fund to pay off Michael Kerkeles, who in 2005 was accused of raping a mentally disabled woman with the cognitive capacity of an 8-year-old.
The case fell flat because a San Jose police officer testified about a fake piece of evidence as if it were real.
Preparing to question the suspect back in 2005, detective Matthew Christian typed up a report by a fictional Santa Clara County Crime Lab technician named Rebecca Roberts, who claimed in her fictional report that semen was found on a blanket taken from Kerkeles’ garage.
Kerkeles invoked his Miranda rights, remaining silent and bypassing any questions. Christian never got his chance to use his meticulously crafted stage prop, so he filed it away with the rest of the evidence.
Fast-forward a year and four months: The case made it to a preliminary hearing and witnesses were called to the stand. Christian testified under oath that Rebecca Roberts’ report was the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It just totally slipped his mind that he doctored the whole thing, the city says. The only reason anyone found out is because Kerkeles’ attorney called the crime lab to ask for the technician’s resume—only to learn she didn’t exist.
It sounds outrageously unconstitutional, this whole making-up-evidence-as-you-go business. But City Attorney Richard Doyle says it’s actually OK as long as it’s used as an interrogation tool and it’s not coercive. Police say it’s a rare tactic. Doyle says the only reason the city is settling is to avoid more legal back-and-forth.
“While we believe that there was insufficient evidence supporting the claim of a conspiracy, and that the officer truly did not remember that he had prepared the report as a ruse when he testified … there are always risks in proceeding to trial, and this settlement avoids those risks,” Doyle writes in a memo going before the council May 7.
But the attorney who won the civil suit for Kerkeles begs to differ.
The appellate court that reinstated Kerkeles’ claim against the city did so based on evidence that San Jose officers “routinely created false crime lab reports and there had been other instances where fake reports had been presented in court as genuine,” according to a press statement released by attorney Timothy McMahon two years ago.
The justices unanimously agreed to let Kerkeles sue Christian for conspiring with Jamie Stringfield, a former Santa Clara County deputy district attorney, to pass off a fake report as the real deal, McMahon stated.
“The DA’s office went so far as to list the fictitious crime lab employee on the trial witness list in order to give credibility to their deceptive strategy,” says McMahon, adding that prosecutors bullied Kerkeles into taking a plea deal.
Stringfield told the Mercury News after the case got dismissed in 2007 that she still believed Kerkeles was “in no way … factually innocent.”
Thanks to the sloppily executed and ethically questionable—though technically legal—policework, that’s now forever relegated to speculation.