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Attorney: Durham Police 'illegally' recording suspect interrogations

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Attorney Alex Charns said the Durham Police Department illegally records suspects during interrogations. Attorney Alex Charns said the Durham Police Department illegally records suspects during interrogations.
DURHAM, N.C. -

An attorney involved in several cases against the Durham Police Department is now trying to prove a trend with the agency that he compares to the NSA.

Attorney Alex Charns said the department is illegally recording suspects, pointing to one of his own clients, Willie Hayes, as an example.

Hayes was charged in July 2012 with felony conspiracy burglary, robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon and kidnapping. Charns said officers were recording his client's interrogation when they allowed Hayes' mother in the room.

"When the detective steps out, the recording doesn't stop, it continues as the angry mom is yelling at the son who is crying. That is recorded," Charns said. "It's put into a report, it's released to the [district attorney] and it's used to prosecute him."

Charns said Hayes, who was a juvenile at the time, did not sign a consent form to be recorded and officers essentially tricked him into incriminating himself.

"They tricked the mom and the son," Charns said. "It was a coercive interrogation. It's unconstitutional."

According the Durham Police Department policy, officers are required to record an interrogation in its entirety when the investigation is of a juvenile. However Charns argues that the unauthorized recording violates federal wiretap and state microphone surveillance laws.

"When the officers walked out of the room, our contention is at that point, it's an illegal electronic surveillance, an illegal microphone surveillance," Charns said.

Charns said he believes the recording is part of a larger problem.

"Look at what the NSA does. The Durham Police Department, in the past, had their little, mini NSA operation going," Charns said. "Is anyone watching? Does anyone care this is going on? Because it's wrong and it should stop."

To validate his claims, Charns filed a subpoena for police recordings of other interrogations dating back to 2010, however the police attorney wanted that request dismissed.

"I think it is unduly burdensome to begin with," police attorney Toni Smith said. "That would require the police department to go through thousands of criminal cases to determine where there are recordings and where there are not. Secondly, I think it's unreasonable because, again, it's not related to this particular defendant."

Ultimately a judge allowed the subpoena for recordings going back just one year prior to Hayes' interrogation.

We looked over the department's policy -- which requires a recording to continue until the person being interviewed has permanently left the room.

Police could not comment specifically on this case because it's still in the courts.

A trial date has not yet been set.

Charns is also the attorney for the family of Jesus Huerta, who died from a gunshot wound to the head in November while handcuffed in the back of a Durham Police cruiser.

Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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