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DA demands Pittsburgh police change photo lineups

July 25, 2014
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The district attorney has demanded that city police change the way they show witnesses photo lineups of criminal suspects in the wake of lawsuits by two men who claim they were falsely identified that way.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. wants the police to show witnesses one photo at a time rather than a batch of six or eight at once when asking someone to identify a suspect, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ( ) reported Friday.

That change, among others, is being made because some experts believe witnesses are more likely to properly identify someone if they focus on each photo individually, whereas seeing a batch of photos may cause a witness to become confused about their initial recollection if they compare the photos side-by-side.

The change comes in the wake of two lawsuits filed by men who claim they were wrongly arrested by the city's robbery squad based on faulty witness identifications.

Zappala, in a letter to the police bureau, said officers are not guilty of misconduct if they arrest someone based on a "witness's sincere but mistaken belief." But the DA said past articles by the newspaper about resulting lawsuits "erode confidence in our police and in the quality and confidence in police investigative processes. Obviously, this cannot occur."

Zappala also wants an officer not involved in the robbery investigation to show the photos to witnesses, further reducing the possibility that an investigator might taint the identification. Zappala said his office will not approve felony arrest warrants unless those new methods are used beginning Aug. 15.

The newspaper reported that a warrant police obtained Wednesday, a day after Zappala's letter, indicated that police were already using the new photo lineup protocols.

A new "eyewitness identification protocol" has been developed in conjunction with the county police, Zappala's office and the president judge, city police spokeswoman Sonya Toler said. She said the new procedures have not been finalized and would not detail them.


Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,



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