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Detective Says I'm A Witness, But Won't Say To What?
April 1, 2013 12:17 PM   Subscribe

I know you are not my lawyer. I have a Kafkaesque situation invovling the cops.

This evening there was a knock on my door from a police officer (call him Officer Bob) from the city in which I live. S/he said that he had just been requested by Detective Something in a different local city to call Officer Something, and that Officer Bob didn't know what it was in regards to. Officer Bob wrote down Officer Something's last name, direct line, and the local city precint Something was in, then leaves.

I call the number for officer Something, and get voicemail. The full name of Officer Something is given, and the name checks out. I leave a message saying my full name, my cell, and that I haven't been to other Local City in ages, but I'd be happy to assist. I leave my cell phone downstairs and go upstairs to watch tv. I return around midnight to find I'd missed a call from Officer Something & s/he left a message. S/he says that instead of playing phone tag, I am asked to report to the Local City station, because there were some questions they wanted to ask me, and asked me to come after a certain afternoon time on Wednesday (two days from now).

ON a hunch, I call the main line back, get transferred to Something and get them. THey say that I need to be asked a few questions as a witness. When I ask "to something that happened in Local City" all they say is yes, and elaborate no further, only that I must be asked in person, at the precinct. I tell the truth-- I has classes that day and may have to stay late for a project, and will be super busy, so if I can make it, I won't even know until that day.

I have a healthy skeptcism of the police, yes, but more importantly, I am being asked to come in, but details are very vague. I am a witness supposdly but have been served no suppose and further details were not given. I have done some reading and have seen lots of lawyers and even former cops say that just going in and talking to a cop can be bad, even if I've done nothing wrong. I can think of nothing I've witnessed that came even close to a crime. It was very weird for Officer Bob to randomly show up on a Sunday evening saying only that s/he'd rec'd a request from Officer Someone in Local City to contact me and home and give me Officer Something's contact info, and stranger still that i be asked to come down to a precint as a witness and be told that I can't be further details. But there has been no supoena given to me. Even though there's supposedly no rush and Something wants to talk to me two days from now.

I have heard horror stories of completely innocent folks going in for these questionings across the country and between nerves, desire to please, etc, somehow implcating themselves. I can think of nothing I have done that is illegal. I see places advising me to get a lawyer before going in to talk to anyone.

I can't afford a lawyer, and until/unless I am charged with something, the state can't assign one for me I don't think. I live in central NJ. I don't know what to do and am tied up in knots. I already have an anxiety disorder and my nervers are jangling off the charts. I cannot afford an attorney at all for any prelim anything. I am confused and don't know what to do pr what's going on and I can't get more explanations from the detective. Help!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (51 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't talk to the police. If you do choose to go and meet with them, bring your lawyer.
posted by thewalrus at 12:19 PM on April 1, 2013 [24 favorites]


I cannot afford an attorney at all for any prelim anything.

Consider your local legal aid society?
posted by bq at 12:25 PM on April 1, 2013


If you can't afford to talk to a lawyer, then you really can't afford to talk to the cops.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:26 PM on April 1, 2013 [91 favorites]


> S/he says that instead of playing phone tag, I am asked to report to the Local City station, because there were some questions they wanted to ask me, and asked me to come after a certain afternoon time on Wednesday (two days from now).

I wouldn't go. Be polite, cite short notice and business, and let them make the next move. They're fishing for something.

Cops often ask for things to which they are in no way entitled, and act surprised and menacing when you refuse.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:26 PM on April 1, 2013 [55 favorites]


Do not go in to meet with them. Do not leave any more messages or call them back again. IANAL, but in no jurisdiction that I am aware of is it a crime to decline to speak with police or to decline to go to a police precinct to speak with police. If they come to your home again, ask them whether they have a warrant for your arrest or a material witness warrant, and if they say that they do not, let them know politely that you are declining to speak with them. Do not sign anything, even if they claim it's just a statement declining to speak with them.

If you speak to them again because they call you or come to your house, tell them not to contact you again unless they are bringing you in on a warrant or unless they are prepared to provide you with an attorney at state expense. If they want to speak with you, they can assign you an attorney (and yes, in jurisdictions I'm familiar with, they can get you a lawyer without charging you with anything if they really want to), give you immunity in writing, and speak with you in the presence of counsel. If they're not willing to do those things, they don't get to talk with you.

Even if you can't afford to hire a lawyer, and even if you don't have a pending case, you can usually call the public defender's office or a lawyer who takes criminal cases and get a consultation just to confirm for you that you're not going to get in trouble for refusing to participate. Call those people, for your own peace of mind. But don't ever talk to the police, and especially don't talk to them without a lawyer.

(I know a woman who was asked to come in as a "witness," when in fact the police wanted to question her because an acquaintance had accused her, falsely, of assault. She spent three days in jail before the charges were dropped at arraignment. Do not be that woman. Do not talk to the police.)
posted by decathecting at 12:27 PM on April 1, 2013 [96 favorites]


Yeah, google "legal aid yourcityname." Tell the cops you can't talk to them until after you've met with your lawyer.
posted by rtha at 12:28 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Consider your local legal aid society?

Your school may have a legal clinic for students, too.
posted by liketitanic at 12:28 PM on April 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I tell the truth-- I has classes that day and may have to stay late for a project, and will be super busy, so if I can make it, I won't even know until that day.

What did Officer Something say when you told them that? I would be inclined to not go and wait until they force me to go one way or the other.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:28 PM on April 1, 2013


Let me summarize your post: I'm generally the sort of person that would cooperate with the police by default, and I'm not even sure I'd show up given your description. This isn't even taking into account the possible legal ramifications to you if the police are investigating you rather than someone else.
posted by saeculorum at 12:28 PM on April 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Don't go until they make you go. If they detain you, tell them you won't speak to them without a lawyer. Then don't speak to them.

That strategy doesn't resolve all of your problems, but it will ensure that you don't say anything that will later be used against you.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:29 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lawyer lawyer lawyer. Please get advice from an actual lawyer before you say anything else to any officer.
posted by erst at 12:29 PM on April 1, 2013


If I could favourite what the Real Dan said a hundred times I would. You are under no obligation to speak to the police if you don't want to. The Miss Manners' response of "I'm sorry, that's not possible" should be used.
posted by essexjan at 12:30 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do not go. Seriously. There is no upside. Why would you talk to them when they won't even tell you to what it pertains?
posted by Justinian at 12:32 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


DO NOT GO, DO NOT TALK WITH THEM!

They are probably investigating you. If they show up at your house again, decline to speak with them (about anything at all). Ask them politely to leave. If they ask you to go to the station, say no and ask if you are under arrest. From that point forward don't say anything other than "Am I free to go?" and "I want to speak with an attorney."
posted by unreasonable at 12:34 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't afford a lawyer, and until/unless I am charged with something, the state can't assign one for me I don't think

This is not necessarily true. I am a public defender who gets appointed when someone is a target of investigation, before that person is charged with anything. I don't think that changes the calculus about whether you should go or not, just that you may have more rights than you realize. Don't hesitate to invoke them.
posted by *s at 12:36 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cops showed up at my house when I wasn't there alleging (totally wrongly) that someone they were looking for lived/had lived there. (I mean, we'd been living there for a while and we knew the people who'd been there before - there was some mistake or something weird was going on.) They attempted to detain my housemate (with no warrant, just by vaguely being portentous and threatening....while she was on her way to the hospital!) and spoke to me on the phone and asked me to leave work to meet with them. I told them that I was the homeowner and that of course I could not leave work on such short notice for such dubious reasons. And that was all. Never heard from them again. (God willing, never will.)

The cops may have made a mistake or received bad information (I assume that's what happened at our house, as various houses on either side tend to have lots of people come and go.) Do not go to see them.

Your school probably has a legal office; your town probably has a legal aid project. Start with your school's legal office - call the school information line if you don't know where it is. (Many students run into minor legal troubles - landlord problems, etc - and lots of schools have an office to help sort this out.)

Just on the off chance: if you are connected in any way with activists, especially environmentalist or animal rights ones or people associated with peace movement stuff who travel abroad a lot, and even if they are just casual friends/relative...act very, very cautiously. There's a lot of stuff going on with grand juries about those folks - I know several people who have really been through the mill. If you know that type of person, it is possible that the cops are fishing for information about their movements, publications, housing, spare time - crazy stuff. Do not talk to the cops. If you think this may be the case, please memail me and I will be glad to put you on to some people and resources who will help you.
posted by Frowner at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


You are always allowed to not do the police's work for them.

If they really want to talk to you, they need to either
a) drive over to you and detain/arrest you with a reasonable suspicion/probable cause that you have committed or are committing a crime, or
b) they need to drive over to you with a subpoena from a court of law compelling you to bear witness.

If they haven't done these things, and you don't have an overwhelming desire to help them do their job, just ignore them - stop taking their calls.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been contacted by the police a couple times when they thought I might have witnessed something, and they were always very forthcoming regarding what they wanted to speak to me about. Their unwillingness to do so in this case is very suspicious to me, I agree 100% that you should have a lawyer present for any questions.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:39 PM on April 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


If they won't tell you what it involves, it probably involves YOU. And they are obviously trying to get you to voluntarily cross into their jurisdiction because they feel they can't get the warrent and/or extradite you. Agreeing with everyone else who said do not go voluntarily. Don't do it. If they come with a warrent, don't say anything until you have a lawyer.
posted by Eicats at 12:42 PM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Do not talk to the cops.

I'm reiterating everything above, and I want to underscore this by saying that "do not talk to the cops" means say NOTHING beyond "do you have a warrant? If not, goodbye." Do not make small talk about the weather or baseball or traffic or school or your friends or anything else in which they might try to engage you, or which you might talk about out of nervousness. There is no small talk or meaningless conversation with cops, especially when they're on a fishing expedition like this seems to be -- anything you say, no matter how innocently or seemingly neutral-sounding, can potentially be used against you or someone else.
posted by scody at 12:43 PM on April 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


Also, is there a lot of corruption or dodginess with your cops locally? (I know - is water wet?) This could easily be some kind of scam, essentially, but a scam organized by the cops. There could be a shake-down aspect to this, or some kind of sexual angle - if you are a young woman or a young queer person of whatever gender, do not go to a police station alone, and make sure that the person you take has some community standing. Also, if you do end up meeting with police, make sure that several people know where you are going and when you expect to be back - just in case you end up chained to a radiator somewhere, because that's not impossible.

That said! I bet there's an innocuous explanation to this, just as there almost certainly was for the cops at my house. Someone gave or got bad information, you are on the very very fringes of some random case and they just want to see if they can shake you down in some way, someone got your phone number confused, someone at the station is new. Sadly, there's not a lot of pressure on cops to run a tight ship.

Don't go to see them, and I'd lay strong odds that you won't hear from them again.
posted by Frowner at 12:43 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been contacted by the police a couple times when they thought I might have witnessed something, and they were always very forthcoming regarding what they wanted to speak to me about.

Seconding this. I've been asked on three separate occasions to offer assistance as a witness for police investigations, and all those times the officers were taking pains to a) confirm I'd even been present at the time, b) tell me what it was concerning and c) confirm I was willing to help. And on two of those occasions, the officers had come to my building to check things out rather than inisisting I come to them (for the third, I was one of the two people who brought the complaint to the police in the first place, so I clearly wasn't the one they were checking out and the dynamic was definitely that I was working WITH them).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was once arrested for felony robbery after speaking with police officers. After agreeing to speak with them (what did I have to hide, I figured) they bullied me and bullied me for details about a robbery that had apparently happened nearby, asking me repeatedly about "the man in the tan shirt." After this kept going and going in circles, I felt trapped and frustrated and just wanted to go home, so I snapped a bit and said, "Why are you wasting your time talking to me? I didn't do anything and I don't know anything. Go find this asshole in the tan shirt." When they booked me, they listed as evidence against me that I "gave an accurate description" of the "other" perpetrator. Eventually, I would find out that a very confused old woman with $4000 in her purse had been robbed nearby and insisted that I "must have been involved." (This was in the deep South in the 90s, and I was a long-haired punk in those days.)

I spent Labor Day weekend in jail until my dad could bail me out. A PI friend of my dad's went back and interviewed all of the other "witnesses" at the scene, quickly producing statements that I hadn't even arrived until after the purse snatching. They dropped the charges, eventually. But I ask you to imagine what kind of experiences I had the next time I got pulled over for a broken tail light and a felony robbery arrest showed up on my name. It was years of that before we got the arrest expunged.

So, YES: very bad things can happen to even innocent people who speak with cops.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:50 PM on April 1, 2013 [154 favorites]


If you get really desperate, there is a National Lawyers' Guild chapter in New Jersey. They will be familiar with dodgy cop stuff and will probably be able to direct you to legal resources.

Remember to sit tight. The cops do not have a warrant for you. If you really, really can't think of anything relevant (you haven't been buying substances, drinking underage or doing other dodgy criminal stuff - and it's extraordinarily unlikely that this is a civil matter) then be especially sure to sit tight. Don't do anything in a panic or in a hurry. The cops can wait.

Most of this stuff blows over, despite the horror stories that we hear. Even a lot of the political people I know have had things basically blow over although the situation has looked pretty bad at times.

Another thing that activists always say in legal trainings: secrecy is bad. Tell your friends what is going on; use your social network. Cops rely on the idea that you'll be afraid or ashamed and alone. If anything bad does happen, bring it back to askmefi, for example. And feel free to memail me - I am not even near New Jersey, but I might be able to round up some contacts who could advise you.
posted by Frowner at 12:55 PM on April 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm a cop in a medium sized Canadian city so keep in mind my perspective regarding our Charter of Rights is different than your US bill of rights.

You are likely a witness to something. This is the rare by-the-book witness interview. You'll never see this on TV but the fact of the matter is that as a witness, in a perfect world, you should have no idea what you were a witness to.

On TV everyone who is a witness to something was standing right there when the cops show up, and knows exactly what they're talking about because they saw the outcome. In the real world if you saw two people running, you might not judge that it was one person being chased, or two people running away, or toward something or someone. If the cop comes up and asks you "did you see that guy chasing that women" you mind will fill in the blanks. I guarantee I can turn any pair of innocent joggers into a murder scene in your mind with the right badly asked question. Instead I'll ask you everything you saw from 3:30 to 5:00 that day and only get your version of events, not the one I put into your head by asking the question.


The cops don't want to tell you what it is because you might not be a useful witness if you post about it online and/or research it. If the thing was big and made it into the news most people won't be able to remember what they read and what they saw after a day or two.

In terms of what's next, it's pretty simple. If you are able to blow off the cops and never hear from them again you were a witness, possibly an important one, possibly not. If they keep coming over and over and eventually arrest you, you're a suspect (unlikely). If they keep coming over and over and never arrest you, then you are maybe the only witness to something serious enough to enlist multi-agency assistance (not your garden variety car cash, in my experience).

The people who say "don't talk to the police" are correct - if you're a suspect your best bet is to shut up. But that's not the same as not going to the meeting to find out what's going on. In a perfect world they shouldn't necessarily tell you what you might have seen, but that doesn't mean you can't go and ask. Get them on the record saying you're not a suspect and that they need your help to solve a crime. Summary: don't talk to the police, good advice. Don't listen to the police? Stupid advice; and sometimes listening to the police means being in the same room.

There is nothing weird about what's going on here, it's all perfectly normal and the reason you think it's weird is because real life isn't like TV/books. Cops have insane schedules and 2 days can be a very fast turnaround, especially when it comes to getting someone at a different office up to speed, or maybe getting there yourself to do the interview. It's perfectly normal for a witness not to know what they saw. As for showing up on a Sunday, cops are 24/7 operation, Sundays are no different and frankly evenings and weekends are the best time to find someone at home.

Last but not least, if you don't go, or don't follow up with the cops to at least get some more information, then for the rest of all time you'd better not complain about anything in the news, anything that happens to your or your friends or your family that goes unsolved, or I hope karma hits you with a train.
posted by BlueSock at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2013 [32 favorites]


I'm just going to refer to my standard layman's advice for these situations.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you decide you need a lawyer, talk to your school. My college had a criminal defense attorney on retainer for students (and alumni) at very reasonable rates.
posted by radioamy at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2013


"I dunno, Detective Whatsit asked my brother in law to tell me you should come down for something." This is best seen as comedy, comedy that could affect your entire life from the point you start talking to them forward.

Relax in your anxiety knowing that if they had good reasons, they would have given them to you, asked you questions at your door, or dragged you down to the station. There's nothing police like more than being completely justified in their actions, and it seems apparent that they aren't in that position here. The detective isn't even doing their own work.
posted by rhizome at 1:19 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not to diminish from the good advice you're getting about legal aid and such, I had this exact thing happen almost a year after I moved to CA. I was not asked to go to the station, but I did play phone tag, and I was very perplexed about what I could have been a witness to.

At the end of the day, I found out that my debit card number had been discovered in relation to a giant card skimming ring that had been busted. They wanted to know if I had discovered any fraudulent purchases, and I suppose if I had, I might have been called to testify.

Luckily (?), it happened at a time I was unemployed, flat broke, and without overdraft protection. So I'm guessing any purchases they attempted were simply refused.
posted by politikitty at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't listen to the police? Stupid advice; and sometimes listening to the police means being in the same room.

Police are trained to lie. OP is not under oath at the station any more than they are at their front door, there's no reason for the formalities. Officer/detective has questions? Then make with the words, the warrant/subpoena, or GTFO.
posted by rhizome at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


To clarify, they asked if I had ever used an ATM at (x) location, and if I specifically remembered using that ATM exactly a year ago. So there was significant delay between the crime and the resulting investigation.
posted by politikitty at 1:26 PM on April 1, 2013


It was unclear to me....did you ring the number of a publicly listed phone number or the number they gave you? Is it possible there is a scam going on?

I'm sure I've read here about some kind of scam with fake cops and fake numbers....
posted by taff at 1:33 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Last but not least, if you don't go, or don't follow up with the cops to at least get some more information, then for the rest of all time you'd better not complain about anything in the news, anything that happens to your or your friends or your family that goes unsolved, or I hope karma hits you with a train.

Uh, no. It'd be nice if the police never railroaded innocent people by lying to them and then using their helpful answers against them, but they do this pretty often, so when a smart civilian politely rejects their invitation to come down to the station house for a friendly little chat, and then complains later that the cops don't fight crime very effectively, the karmic choo-choo still runs right through the local precinct in the general direction of police HQ.
posted by nicwolff at 1:33 PM on April 1, 2013 [65 favorites]


In a perfect world they shouldn't necessarily tell you what you might have seen, but that doesn't mean you can't go and ask. Get them on the record saying you're not a suspect and that they need your help to solve a crime.

And again no, in the USA the police can lie to a suspect all they like, on or off the record, about whether or how they are connected to the crime.
posted by nicwolff at 1:38 PM on April 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


As scody points out, you really shouldn't talk to them about *anything*. This piece on Slate addresses the problems of consensual encounters with the police and how it can make you look more suspicious to cooperate at first and then later refuse. Refuse from the beginning.
posted by katemonster at 1:40 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a cop in a medium sized Canadian city so keep in mind my perspective regarding our Charter of Rights is different than your US bill of rights.

You may also be subject to vastly different rules, regulations, and laws in Canada regarding lying to civilians and suspects than police are subject to in the United States. Countless stories of innocent people getting imprisoned for decades (or worse, being put on death row) start with police misconduct, including lying and entrapment.
posted by scody at 1:42 PM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


If this were me, I would talk to my school's legal aid department. This will probably be a nice change from the usual boring stuff they deal with and will be happy to look into what it is going on for you. Most of them have attorneys on retainer who can at the very least make some phone calls for you.
posted by empath at 1:51 PM on April 1, 2013


Another link: former prosecutor Ken White on why talking to the police will never "clear this up" and how you can be prosecuted for giving the "wrong" answer to a question even if you're not charged with anything material - Just a friendly reminder: please shut the hell up.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:51 PM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


[A couple comments removed; folks, this needs to be less of an arguing-with-each-other thing and stay focused on answering the specific question.]
posted by cortex at 2:12 PM on April 1, 2013


Ask to reschedule for a time that is convenient for you, and bring someone with you when you go, a lawyer would be great, but even a friend. You're not a suspect, you're some kind of potential witness. Also make sure that you are really the person they need to interview. Is your name common enough that there might be someone with the same or a very similar name in that city? You can check by searching any number of people search places, try intelius.com, it's free as long as you're just looking for names.
posted by mareli at 2:20 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a cop in a medium sized Canadian city so keep in mind my perspective regarding our Charter of Rights is different than your US bill of rights.

OP: Not a single word after this line is of any use to you, here, in the United States. Follow the other commenters above: if the cops need your information, they will do what they need to do to get it (warrants, giving you background information you want, etc.).

You are in a situation that is sufficiently unusual that I would be very skeptical of it.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:39 PM on April 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Have you been calling Officer Something and his precinct only via the phone numbers Officer Bob provided, or did you actually look up phone numbers for that precinct?

I ask because, suspicious type that I am, this whole thing has a slightly-weird and scammy feel to it: do you actually have any proof that either Officer Bob or the voice on the phone calling themself Officer Something ARE, in fact, police officers.

But either way, police officers or not, you are not in any way required to talk to them, by phone or in person. If and when they produce a warrent, THEN you AND A LAWYER talk to them.
posted by easily confused at 3:51 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'll just leave this here...
posted by j_curiouser at 3:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


You're not a suspect, you're some kind of potential witness.

The poster who wrote this has absolutely no way of knowing whether or not it is true. The police are allowed to lie to you about virtually anything at virtually any time. They are allowed to tell you that you are some kind of potential witness when in fact you are the suspect. They are also allowed to decide halfway through talking to a witness, after the witness says something that seems innocuous to the witness, that the witness is actually a suspect and should be arrested right there on the spot.

Do not talk to the police. Do not ask the police to tell you what's going on. Do not go anywhere the police ask you to go unless they confirm for you that you are obligated by law to go to that place at that time. Do not bring a "friend" with you to talk to the police unless that friend is also an experienced criminal defense attorney licensed in your state.

Any other answers to your questions are flat out incorrect. At best, doing anything other than politely refusing to talk will result in nothing bad happening. At worst, doing anything other than politely refusing to talk will result in you spending years in prison for a crime you didn't commit. And the cops, even those who are moral people dedicated to serving the public, will lie to you and will try to trick you if they decide you are a suspect, and you will have no way of knowing whether that's what they're doing until it's too late. Do not talk to the police.
posted by decathecting at 4:30 PM on April 1, 2013 [31 favorites]


I'm generally the sort of person that would cooperate with the police by default, and I'm not even sure I'd show up given your description. This isn't even taking into account the possible legal ramifications to you if the police are investigating you rather than someone else.

I agree with this. While I understand the "never talk to the police" argument, I also am a realist: most police officers want to clear cases and not get into hassles. I talk to the police all the time. But that's just me, and that's the point: nobody can ethically tell you to talk to the police, because we all have the right to remain silent. Nobody can advise us to give that up without very careful consideration. So of course everyone has to tell you not to talk to them because only a fool takes advice from strangers, and fools shouldn't talk to the police.

However, the one thing I will absolutely advise you to do is always, always be pleasant and sincere with any law enforcement personnel you encounter. You can and should assert your rights- nicely. Don't avoid contact or duck meetings- this raises suspicion. If you already agreed to show up, inform them that you will not be able to make it.

What I would do (and not what you should do, this is just me) is call officer Something back and confirm that I will not be able to make it on Wednesday, and that I am unfortunately unavailable to travel to that city. I might say "if you want to tell me what this is about, maybe we can clear this up now. Otherwise, I'll need something in writing before I can proceed." If the officer acts shitty in any way, politely end the conversation and tell them that you need to retain a lawyer and that lawyer will be contacting them in the near future.

This whole thing sounds weird. It almost sounds like a particularly lazy process server not wanting to leave the office.

But yeah, don't go to the meeting, and if you hear anything more about it, you have to get a lawyer.
posted by gjc at 5:06 PM on April 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


[STOP ARGUING. Answer the OPs question and take everything else to MeMail starting now.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:33 PM on April 1, 2013


Q. Why do the police have police cars?
A. To go all the places they need to go.

Q. Why do the police ask questions?
A. To get information/collect evidence they don't yet have.

Don't go, and don't talk, for all the reasons people have mentioned here.
posted by Rykey at 6:02 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's nothing magical about the precinct. There is no reason a witness needs to answer questions there. Other than reinforcing the power disparity, there's no reason to command you to go to the precinct.

Unless you have guidance from a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction, pass on the invite to the station.
posted by 26.2 at 6:38 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


So once upon a time my neighbor went off the deep end to the tune of a dead firefighter, to wounded police officers, and more police hardware on the scene then you can imagine.

When the dust settled and the police were putting together their report, they were more than content to do a phone interview of my wife and I.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:06 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The police (if that's what they are; it smacks of a scam to me) are treating you like a "person of interest." This is one step down from "suspect," and the wrong phrase from your lips (like "go find the damn man in the tan shirt!") can move you straight into the "suspect, and booked, and having an anal inspection to see if you've got a shiv up your ass" category. So, yeah, like everyone else said, DON'T GO.

And practice saying these phrases, in case someone shows up at your door:

"I will not speak with you without my attorney present."
"I will not speak with you unless I receive a subpoena."
"I want a lawyer. I will not speak without my lawyer."
"Am I being detained? Am I free to go?"

Also, DO NOT let the police into your home. If they want to speak with you at your home, step out the door, close the door behind you, and speak with them on the porch. Do not answer questions (see the lines above) and do not spend much time with them. Just clarify with them that you will not answer their questions, and step back inside nicely. And of course be polite, be calm, be unthreatening, and be on your guard for trick questions, like about the weather, your school schedule, the license plates on your car, the kind of cat you've got, anything.

So sorry you're going through this. Just take a deep breath, keep calm in the face of them if they ever show up again, and hope that they find another person more interesting.
posted by Capri at 8:58 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


[Please make sure your comments actually refer to the OP in some way.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:04 AM on April 2, 2013


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