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An everyday American nightmare

On Behalf of | Jan 22, 2024 | Firm News

**SPOILER WARNING:  This blog will discuss spoilers about the Netflix docu-series American Nightmare**

A hot new true crime series is out on Netflix called “American Nightmare.”  It’s only three episodes long with a total combine run time a little over 2 hours.  If you haven’t watched it yet, stop right now and give it a watch.

Okay, that was messed up wasn’t it?

The Vallejo California Police Department botched this investigation from the very beginning because they started with a conclusion.  To be fair to them, the reported crime truly did seem stranger than fiction.  It certainly didn’t help that the Denise Huskins kidnapping happened about a year after the movie Gone Girl had come out and there were certainly some parallels.  When the case was turned over to the FBI, America’s premier law enforcement agency fared no better.

Unfortunately, Denise’s kidnapping was all too real and the case was solved in spite of the law enforcement agencies’ work and not because of it.

So, how did this happen?

Law enforcement fell into a very human trap.  They wanted to be right.  They had an initial theory (i.e., “it was the boyfriend”) and their entire investigation was geared towards proving themselves right.  When Denise reappeared days later, their theory changed (i.e., a real-life Gone Girl) and they began to blame Denise and Aaron as having perpetrated a hoax.  At no point, it seems, did law enforcement seem to take the case seriously as a kidnapping.  They didn’t take very simple steps like tracing the location of a cell phone when a “proof of life” call came in that could have prevented Denise from being raped a second time.

We’re all human and prone to this kind of confirmation seeking bias.  In my experience, police officers are unfortunately more prone to this when we would hope it would be the opposite.  Why?  In my opinion it’s because a police officer’s judgment is their most important asset/skill.  They are forced to make split decisions that can have life or death consequences.  In some ways, they can’t afford to second guess themselves because in certain situations it could cost them their own lives.

In 10 years of working directly with police investigations from my work experience at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and at Ladendorf Fregiato & Bigler, I can count the number of times that a police officer has admitted making a mistake in an investigation on one hand.  Honestly, I can’t think of a single time it’s happened.

Many times, the investigative steps necessary to demonstrate that the wrong conclusion had been made are as simple as reviewing 911 calls.  Some times it is more complex dealing with crash reconstruction, photo and video analysis, or other advanced techniques.

Very few cases will rise to the level of what happened to Denise and Aaron in American Nightmare, but when you’ve been hurt in a personal injury accident, a crash report or police investigation that is not in your favor can be devastating in your recovery and pursuit of compensation.  Regardless of the situation, if you think the police came to the wrong conclusion in your case, it is critical for you to talk to an attorney who knows how to investigate investigations.

Be safe out there,

Matt Bigler