Widely used police interrogation technique can result in false confession: Disclosure

An investigation by Disclosure shows a police interrogation technique can result in false confessions.

Interrogation tactics used by some Canadian police are being criticized after a report by CBC Television's investigative program, Disclosure, showed that Regina police and the RCMP led three suspects to falsely confess to a grisly murder.

Videotapes obtained by CBC Television document more than 15 hours of police interrogations in the Regina case. They show police using sophisticated, psychological interrogation techniques on three young men who eventually confess to raping and killing a 14-year-old Regina girl in a high-profile 1996 case.

"I'm not even sure how to explain it because I'm not sure how it happened to me," says Joel Labadie, one of the three who falsely confessed.

"All I know is for hours on end I said 'No, I had nothing to do with it.' Next thing you know I'm sitting here going 'Sure, why not. I did it.' More or less it's like they kill your spirit or something," he said.

Labadie, Douglas Firemoon and a 17-year-old minor were all arrested for first-degree murder and spent nearly 4 months in jail for a murder they had nothing to do with.

In the end, DNA evidence convicted another man.

The issue of false confessions recently made international headlines in the Central Park Jogger case.

Five New York men were recently cleared of a brutal rape that they falsely confessed to in 1989.

"If you got the wrong person in the room, and you use those methods, it's going to be a punishing experience," says Richard Ofshe, a U.S. expert witness on false confessions.

"If you're innocent and you allow the process to go forward, you are going to go in for a ride the likes of which you never wanted to volunteer for," said Ofshe.

The process is the Reid model of interrogation.

The Regina videotapes, never before made public, show the officers using elements of this technique on the three young men. It's the gold standard in North America taught to members of major Canadian police forces and the RCMP at Canada's three largest police training colleges.

"My job when I am an interrogator, when we teach it, is to have that person now tell me that secret," says Neil Barker, he heads the Canadian Police College's interrogation training program.

"Reid is probably the best source to go to about persuading someone to get them to tell you that story."

However, the technique has been blamed for producing false confessions in Alberta and Manitoba, as well.

"I thought I could convince them that I was innocent, but you can't," says Edmonton resident Michael St. John. In 1998, he was accused of assaulting his own son. He faced nearly eight hours of interrogation.

"They had one set mind and one set mind only: you're guilty, you've done it, now confess," said St. John.

In 1992, a Brandon, Man., math teacher was accused of touching a student's breast. He, too, falsely confessed.

"You know that's hard, when you pick up the local paper, and there you are on the front page, an accused sexual molester," says former teacher Dwight Grant.

In both cases the men were cleared.

The judges in the cases had harsh words about the Reid technique. In Alberta, the judge called it a "huge psychological brainwashing exercise." And in Manitoba, a judge called the technique "repugnant to society's sense of decency," and urged police to stop using it.

In Britain, some of the tactics used in the Reid technique aren't allowed by the courts. However, three years ago, a Supreme Court of Canada decision in essence approved the technique here.

But critics argue that was a mistake. "I don't think it should be allowed in Canada," says Calgary criminal lawyer and former provincial court judge John James.

"The technique is designed to break the individual down psychologically so that he repeats back to them what they want to hear," he said.