EL CAJON, Calif. - Questions were raised in an East County courthouse Tuesday morning after it was revealed that El Cajon police homicide detectives doctored a photo as a “ruse” to coerce a confession from the prime suspect in a murder investigation.
Shaima Alawadi was bludgeoned to death in her El Cajon home in 2012. Her husband Kassim Alhimidi was arrested after a long investigation.
“We determined that this homicide was a result of domestic violence,” said El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman at the time.
Alhimidi denied it at his arraignment and during a jailhouse interview with 10News.
Then came a surprise Tuesday during a pretrial motion hearing. El Cajon police Detective Darren Forster said he got Alhimidi to say he was near home at the time of the murder by showing him a picture of Alhimidi’s red van parked around the corner.
The detective said Alhimidi steadfastly denied being there but eventually caved because he could not argue with photographic evidence.
The only problem is the picture was a fake. Forster called it a “ruse” in court. He admitted police drove Alhimidi’s red van back to the scene, staged a picture of it and added a fake time stamp and then showed it to Alhimidi.
Alhimidi has consistently denied killing his wife. The doctored photo merely solicited a confession that he may have been there at the time of the murder. The admission eventually led to his arrest.
An El Cajon police spokesman said it was their only option because they could not capture a useable still picture from surveillance video from a nearby school that allegedly shows Alhimidi’s van. 10News has not seen the video or the fake photo.
California Western School of Law professor Justin Brooks heads the California Innocence Project in San Diego. He does not like the idea of police lying but said the U.S. Constitution never addressed the issue.
“The Supreme Court has many times validated the idea that police can lie in the process of interrogations and can even present false evidence … sometimes that suspect gets confused and sometimes their memories get distorted and they give false testimony,” said Brooks.
Alhimidi wept openly in court as he heard for the first time he was duped by a doctored photo.
Defense attorneys spent most of Tuesday’s hearing working to submit evidence that would pin the killing on the victim’s daughter, Fatima. She was in the house at the time of the killing and court records say she was unhappy about an arranged marriage.
Opening arguments for Alhimidi’s case begin April 1.