Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

New York Police Falsify Evidence

Like any organized criminal enterprise, the New York State Police relied on the code of silence to protect them from exposure. The silence was broken in 1991 when a former state trooper, David Harding, applied for a job with the CIA. Harding apparently wanted to impress his prospective employers with his "covert operation" skills. During the course of a polygraph exam, Harding boasted that he had faked fingerprint evidence in several hundred criminal investigations. He also admitted to stealing large sums of cash from drug raids, and falsifying the weight of confiscated cocaine (to upgrade the offense to a more serious crime).

The CIA decided Mr. Harding's skills were not required, that for whatever reasons, he would not make a good operative. It took 15 months for them to relay Harding's incredible disclosures to New York State Police headquarters in Albany. That's when the plot began to unravel.

The Governor of New York appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations. Harding was investigated, charged, and pleaded guilty to perjury committed in four separate trials. One of the cases involved a vicious assault on an elderly man. A suspect in the assault was informed that police (Harding) had lifted his fingerprint from the victim's sink. Faced with that highly incriminating evidence, the suspect confessed to the crime. At trial, Harding testified that he had lifted the incriminating print from the victim's sink. The FBI crime lab determined that to be a false assertion. Harding then admitted that he had lifted the print from a beer bottle found in the suspect's home.

In another case, Harding was asked to go undercover in order to obtain exemplars of prints from a murder suspect. Harding announced that he had obtained the prints and matched them to the crime scene. A SWAT team was then dispatched to arrest the suspect. In the course of the operation, the suspect was shot dead. One year later another man confessed to the crime, giving police intimate details of the crime scene that could only have been known by the murderer.

The investigation widened when Harding's partner, Robert Lishansky, admitted to manufacturing fingerprint evidence in 321 separate cases--300 of which he worked alone. The other 21 cases involved other troopers. Lieutenant Craig D. Harvey, of the state police, recently pleaded not guilty on a 116 count indictment charging falsification of evidence. Lt. Harvey had direct supervisory responsibility over officers Harding and Lishansky. The investigation continues.

In response to the scandal, the New York State Police are instituting "sweeping reforms" to insure that future evidence is not falsified, including a requirement that two troopers sign all crime scene reports. In light of the fact that many of the cases to date involve more than one officer, these reforms may not prevent the practice in the future.

Prisoners in New York State whose convictions hinged on physical (fingerprint) evidence may want to look into this issue further.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login