Editorial: Murder by Lies

False reports from criminals or from fellow officers can be extremely hazardous to you and the public you serve.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Santa Fe, NM, Police Officer Robert Duran was killed March 2, pursuing a carjacking suspect. The woman he was trying to save has been charged with making a false report. (Photo: Santa Fe PD)Santa Fe, NM, Police Officer Robert Duran was killed March 2, pursuing a carjacking suspect. The woman he was trying to save has been charged with making a false report. (Photo: Santa Fe PD)

Last month Santa Fe 911 received a call that said a woman had been carjacked by a man with a knife and was being kidnapped. Moments later officers spotted the involved vehicle and the suspect tried to escape by driving the wrong way on I-25. Officer Robert Duran pursued. The pursuit ended in a crash that killed Duran and a retired Las Vegas, NM, firefighter.

The pursued vehicle also crashed, the victim escaped, and the suspect fled. At least that’s what police believed at the time. What they didn’t know is that they had taken the real suspect to the hospital for treatment.

New Mexico State Police now say the “victim,” 46-year-old Jeannine Jaramillo made up the whole thing. Officer Robert Duran of the Santa Fe Police Department died trying to rescue a kidnapped woman who was never kidnapped. Jaramillo is now charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Criminal hoaxes always endanger the public. And it is particularly heinous when law enforcement officers commit such crimes.

The worst criminal hoax that I have seen during my 20-year tenure at POLICE was the story of Fox Lake, IL, police lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz. On Sept. 1, 2015, Gliniewicz radioed in that he was in a foot pursuit, chasing three men in a marshy area. Other officers responded and found the 30-year veteran of the Fox Lake PD shot dead at the scene. Officers from multiple local, state, and federal agencies flooded the area looking for the suspects.

Then the story started to fall apart. Gliniewicz was shot twice with his own gun, once in the vest and once in the upper chest. The first thought was that the lieutenant was killed by an assailant who grabbed his gun and turned it on him.  Two months later, the death was ruled a suicide. And it got so much worse after that.

Gliniewicz ended up being the kind of bad cop that’s seldom seen outside of movies or TV shows. He embezzled money from his agency, he tried to get a local gang member to kill the woman whose audit was going to reveal his thievery, he sexually harassed agency personnel, and so much more.

Even his final act, making his suicide look like murder, endangered the public and other officers. The manhunt could have easily ended in tragedy with a blue-on-blue incident or an innocent civilian killed by police. The day after Gliniewicz was found dead, a local woman reported to authorities that two men tried to steal her car. Nearly 100 officers responded to the scene with 11 K-9s and three air units. She lied about the whole thing.

If the Gliniewicz case is the worst criminal hoax I’ve written about, the Smollett case is the dumbest. Jussie Smollett, a supporting actor on the TV show “Empire,” claimed he had been attacked by two white supremacists in the frigid wee morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019. The case was absurd from the start, but Chicago cops had to investigate. And they soon found that Smollett had staged the whole thing with a couple of acquaintances. After more than two years of political and legal maneuvering, Smollett was convicted of five counts of felony disorderly conduct in December. Last month he was sentenced to 150 days in jail and ordered to pay a $120,000 fine to cover the Chicago PD resources he wasted with his little publicity stunt. Smollett was then released on bond while his attorneys appeal.

There are those who believe Smollett’s punishment was too harsh. I believe it wasn’t harsh enough. He not only wasted the time of Chicago detectives, he also undermined the believability of real hate crime victims, and he endangered the public by sending police out after suspects who did not exist. His lies could have easily led to tragedy.

As could the lies of an Oklahoma officer who recently perpetrated a hoax that led to him being dismissed from his small town department. The former Wilson, OK, officer claimed he was shot twice in the vest by a suspicious man near a school. After the evidence in the incident didn’t add up, the former officer admitted he was lying. But you can imagine the anxiety this false report caused his department and community.

Some false reports have clear motives such as Gleniewicz’s attempt to escape justice and Smollett’s attempt to raise his celebrity profile. But some involve psychology that defies explanation. Why would a woman in New Mexico report a fake kidnapping and lead police on a dangerous pursuit? Why would an officer in a small town risk his career and possibly his freedom to falsely claim he was shot? These people clearly need help.

But as a society, we can’t just say “no harm, no foul” and let them go on their way. That kind of leniency is deadly. Jeannine Jaramillo, the woman who reportedly caused the death of a Santa Fe officer and an innocent motorist, also allegedly made false reports of carjacking in Cibola County, NM, causing dangerous vehicle pursuits in September and October. Prosecutors dismissed both cases “pending further investigation.” If she had been charged and jailed, maybe Santa Fe officer Robert Duran would still be alive.

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