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Detective said he told 'untruths' during bank robbery interrogation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Charleston police detective said Monday that he used a common bluffing tactic while interrogating a man suspected of robbing a Charleston Town Center bank in hopes of convincing the defendant that investigators had more evidence than they actually did.

Detective J.C. Webb said during an evidence suppression hearing Monday in the case of Billy Gene Reed and Anthony Williams -- who are accused of robbing the mall's United Bank branch at gunpoint -- that he told at least two "untruths" to Reed during the investigation.

"How many times do you think you lied to Mr. Reed?" Kanawha County assistant public defender Richard Holicker said.

"I don't remember," Webb said.

Webb said he told Reed during the initial interrogation that police had footage of the two men shedding a layer of clothing as they fled the bank on foot. The detective also passed along a message from Reed's lover, imploring him to tell the truth about the robbery.

Webb said Monday that both pieces of information were fabricated, and part of a tactic commonly taught at the West Virginia State Police Academy.

Charleston Police Lt. Steve Cooper confirmed that the method, called "subterfuge," is commonly used in police circles.

"It's a legal lie," Cooper said. "Those types of tactics are designed to elicit confessions from the guilty, not the innocent."

Cooper said that while common, any police bluff has to line up with the evidence in some way. In other words, police just don't throw out random lies in hopes of catching a defendant off guard.

"There are a lot of times that it backfires. It's not a tactic that we use willy nilly," he said. "If you bluff a suspect and you're inaccurate, he's going to know that you don't know that information."

On June 22, Reed, 40, and Williams, 20, walked to the bank as it was opening and knocked on the glass, police said. When an employee came to investigate, one of the men pulled out a gun and pointed it at her.

The men made off with an undisclosed amount of cash, but were captured moments later by police near the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and Washington Manor.

Detectives said at the time that the men were each wearing layers of clothing and were shedding one set as they fled in an attempt to change their appearances.

Reed and Williams' lawyers asked Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster to throw out their initial statements to the police. In Williams' case, Webb initiated an interrogation even after the defendant invoked a right to have counsel present, said his lawyer, John Carr.

Williams, when he was arrested, told a patrolman that he wanted to speak to a lawyer. Under the law, that should have ended the interrogation unless Williams changed his mind and said he wanted to talk, his lawyer said.

Webb said that Williams did tell another officer that he wanted to reinitiate the conversation. Carr pointed out that there is no evidence of that in the interrogation transcript. The patrolman who arrested Williams was not available to testify.

"I know you talked to an officer," Carr, reading from the interrogation transcript, said Monday. "You asked for a lawyer, right?"

When Williams confirmed that he asked for a lawyer, Webb left the interrogation room. When he re-entered, he told Williams "the only way we can talk to you is if you reinitiate the conversation," Carr said.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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