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Welch: CPD week 8: Not Guilty!

Testifying in court can be a stressful experience even if you’re just a witness. At week eight of the Porterdale Police Department (PPD) Citizens Police Academy (CPA), we learned that it can also be extremely humbling.

Last week, the class split up into teams and responded to a mock crime scene with gunshots, drugs, shell casings and two dead people. It was our task to secure the crime scene, process the evidence and prepare a case strong enough to get a conviction on the perpetrator of the crime.

As we have been learning since the beginning of February, policing is hard work. Cops respond to calls, usually seeing people at their very worst. They mitigate dangerous situations. And as important as anything they do, they prepare cases for court and try to get the bad guys convicted. That may be the hardest job of all.

For our mock trials, PPD Chief Jason Cripps invited Newton County Magistrate and Probate Judge Melanie Bell, Porterdale Municipal Court Judge Robert Piccarreto, and Conyers attorney Wendi Armstrong. Watching legal professionals ply their trade has always been fascinating to me. Watching the CPA mock trials was just as much fun. Once I got out of the witness chair, that is.

For our case, Judge Piccarreto assumed the role of the prosecutor, Ms. Armstrong was the defense attorney and Judge Bell was on the bench. Prosecutors and cops are on the same team, so Judge Piccarreto led me through the evidence without too much stress. We had our evidence. We had secured our search warrants. We had done our forensics. Our ducks were neatly lined up in a row. This was going to be a slam dunk.

 Then it was the defense’s turn. There is a reason it’s called cross-examination. I was sitting in the witness chair confident in the case I had helped to prepare. I knew that we had a conviction. Then Ms. Armstrong started questioning me.

She meticulously parsed every word I said. I knew what I was talking about, or at least I thought I did. I didn’t even convince me. My teammates fared no better under cross-examination and we lost out case. But we learned a lot. One thing we learned is that while we took many pictures of the crime scene, if nobody can see them, they’re no good. We forgot to print our photos. It was a rookie mistake- we won’t make it again.

For the next trial, Judge Bell assumed the role as the prosecutor with Judge Piccarreto taking his spot on the bench. Judge Bell led her team through the evidence and they responded very well. Even Ms. Armstrong’s cross-examination could not shake their story and they got a conviction.

For the final trial, Judge Bell and Ms. Armstrong switched sides. Both were really good at their jobs, but the trial ended without a conviction. That was a good thing. It seems that our “defendant”- the one convicted by group two, was innocent. That probably taught us as much as anything we’ve learned about being a cop for the last eight weeks. Things are usually not what they seem to be.

It turned out that our hysterical witness, the daughter of one of the victims, was a killer and a drug dealer.  It was a tale dreamed up by Chief Cripps and Corporal Charles Cook that was as convoluted and confusing as any you’d see on television. And we learned from it.

This was another great session of the CPA. I’m in class with a really good group of people and we’ve learned a lot since this started. It’s hard to believe that we only have one more week.

Next week, we’re going to hear from the Newton County coroner, and have simulated judgmental shooting scenarios. Again, it will by interesting and educational. Stay tuned.