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D.A. Won't Prosecute Detective Accused of Confession Coercion

March 17, 1987|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

The district attorney's office has declined to file criminal charges against a Los Angeles Police Department detective accused of coercing murder confessions from two illegal aliens who could not have possibly committed the crimes.

Tapes of Detective James McCann's interrogations of Ruben Avila Trujillo, 24, and Pedro Barrios Delvillar, 18, include "nothing to indicate physical or verbal abuse," according to a special investigations division report issued Monday.

But James A. Goldstein, an attorney who has filed a $20-million civil suit against the Police Department on behalf of the two men, called portions of the report "ridiculous" and said he was "shocked, surprised and disappointed" that no criminal action was taken against McCann.

Murder and robbery charges against Trujillo and Delvillar, stemming from two fatal stabbings in downtown Los Angeles on March 21, were dismissed last December by a Municipal Court judge after it was determined that both men were in police custody in connection with other crimes when the two murders occurred. Trujillo, records showed, was in San Diego County Jail on auto-tampering charges and Delvillar was in California Youth Authority custody in Ventura County.

Prosecutors investigated whether McCann should be charged with assault under color of authority after Goldstein and a second defense attorney charged that the detective slapped and otherwise intimidated Trujillo and Delvillar into agreeing they had committed the murders.

"When you have two people confessing to serious crimes that they couldn't possibly have committed . . . it's conceivable that something caused them to make those confessions," Deputy Dist. Atty. Herbert R. Lapin, who wrote the report, acknowledged in an interview Monday. "The problem is . . . there's nothing in the original interview tapes that indicate anything is going on other than a normal interrogation."

Lapin said he was assured by police officials that the tape was rolling during the entire course of the interrogations.

But Goldstein said he does not believe that the tape reveals the whole encounter.

"That's just not true," he said in an interview, "The tape starts off saying, 'We've been talking about these murders. . . .' "

Another factor in the district attorney's decision, Lapin said, was that Delvillar acknowledged in a December interview with a district attorney's investigator that McCann never slapped, struck or kicked him. Rather, Delvillar said he confessed to the crimes because "he was loaded . . . (and) eventually became tired during the questioning" the report read.

Trujillo, meanwhile, told authorities he confessed because he was afraid of being beaten and was also led to believe that he would be set free from jail if he said he committed the crimes. McCann and two other police officers told investigators that McCann used no force on Trujillo--with one of the officers claiming McCann was actually "laid back and easy going."

Goldstein said the district attorney's office was "ignoring reality" by believing police accounts of the interrogations.

"I don't think people go around confessing to murders that carry the death penalty in order to be released from jail," he said. "It's ridiculous. It's hard to comment it's so absurd."

Goldstein also criticized the failure to take action against McCann for "feeding the facts" of the crimes to the suspects before their "confessions."

Trujillo and Delvillar were able to include details of the crimes in their admissions, Lapin noted, because McCann, early on in the interrogations, mentioned such specifics.

Although the results of a separate police investigation have not yet been made public, the department's eventual findings will support the district attorney's decision against filing charges, a Police Department spokesman said Monday.

McCann, in a telephone interview Monday, said that he was "pleased" that the district attorney's office cleared him of criminal charges, but wished "they were more clearcut in their conclusions."

"You have to have a crime (to file charges) and they don't have a crime," he noted.

"We're not in the business of charging the wrong people," McCann added."...I know I didn't do anything wrong, my officers didn't do anything wrong."

McCann emphasized that his entire interviews with the suspects were taped "and the way the taping was done, it's not possible to turn the recorder on and off."

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