Value of Overt
Surveillance? Police never left Gentile alone.
Expert says overt surveillance is commonly used to unnerve suspects.
By Mark Merchant and Kevin Dennehy, Staff Writers
Article from Cape Cod Times, July 1999
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In the four days and three nights before his arrest on kidnapping charges Thursday, Michael Gentile was followed around the clock by eight state police detectives, often only an arm's length away. His lawyer decried the tactics as harassment even before his arrest. One public defender charged that investigators' actions effectively took Gentile's life. When Gentile walked into public defender Mark Gagnon's office Wednesday, detectives followed and stood outside during the meeting. When he rented a motel room in an attempt to take pressure of constant intrusion off him and his family, detectives rented the room next door. They parked as many as eight cruisers outside his sister's Plymouth home while he stayed there.
In short, they were always around. His lawyers say the tactics were designed to put so much pressure on Gentile, he would say anything about the Melissa Gosule case just to get the pressure off. "One would think that's the objective of the tactics. I can't think of any other reason for it," Gagnon said. But criminal investigation experts say what detectives did is a standard practice, one of many tools they use when investigating certain types of crime. Murder and kidnapping are two of those crimes.
"It's a good and it's a recognized tactic. I can't tell you how many times I've recommended it in certain types of cases," said police expert Vernon Geberth. Geberth spend 34 years in the New York City police. When he retired in 1987, he was the top man in the Bronx Homicide Task Force. He has personally investigated, supervised, assessed or consulted on more than 8,000 death investigations. He also has a degree in psychology. The author of "Practical Homicide Investigations," considered by many to be the bible of homicide investigation, Geberth runs a company by the same name which has trained more than 26,000 detectives - including many in the Massachusetts state police - in investigative techniques.
Geberth said he knew nothing of the specifics of the Gosule disappearance and therefore would speak only in generalities about the nature of crime and the value of open surveillance. "There is a definite value to overt surveillance on certain suspects in certain types of crimes. In fact I've used it myself. And the purpose of overt surveillance is to unnerve the suspect and try to get them to make mistakes. It also could be the prelude to an official interrogation," he said. There is also a much simpler reason for open surveillance - keeping tabs on someone.
Yesterday, Cape and Islands First Assistant District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said that was exactly what state police were doing - keeping track of Gentile, not psychologically intimidating him or harassing him. "Our sole purpose in this instance was to know the whereabouts of someone for when we would later want to get our hands on him," he said. "Others can ascribe all sorts of motives to what the police were doing ... we just wanted to know where this guy was."
He added: "The only thing the police did in this case was conduct close surveillance of this individual. We expect the police, when doing this, will behave professionally. And they certainly did this in this case. "We're very mindful of the constitutional rights of the individual ... we were certainly within those rights."
After following Gentile since Monday, detectives swooped down on him Thursday night while he walked in the same area Melissa Gosule spent her afternoon on Sunday. There were concerns among investigators following Gentile that he would jump into the Cape Cod Canal. O'Keefe said a Coast Guard boat was ready to protect the safety of the man.
Investigators' interrogations were initially thwarted when Gentile refused to answer questions without his lawyer. Since then, according to Plymouth County District Attorney Michael Sullivan, Gentile has been uncooperative. Gagnon maintains that the detectives' actions were unnecessary. "In reality I don't believe the constant surveillance has any impact on the case. I'm sure they were hoping it would have an impact on the case. I'm sure that was the object of this massive police interference with his life," he said.
But Geberth said there is a dimension in surveillance that is important to police. "Many types of investigations are psychological warfare in connection with certain types of offenders in certain types of cases. People who commit specific types of crime are not going to come in and confess or suffer from remorse, and you need every weapon you can get in your arsenal to employ," he said.
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