Police Lineups, Filled by the Usual Suspects

So, what is it like to be a filler in a police lineup?

Ray Noriega is perhaps more qualified than most to answer that question. In recent months, Mr. Noriega, 19, has appeared in scores of police lineups, most of them in the Bronx. “I do all the Spanish ones,” he explained.

Mr. Noriega, a part-time high school student, is one of the regulars used by Robert Weston, who helps the police in the Bronx find people to fill out police lineups. Mr. Weston has been friendly with Mr. Noriega’s family for years, and now Mr. Noriega reaps the benefits of the relationship; for each lineup he participates in, he gets $10.

He also has some stories to tell. There was the one suspect who was a tattoo artist and he kept trying to convince the fillers to take down his phone number should they ever want a tattoo. “He was in jail, but he was promoting his tattoos,” Mr. Noriega recalled with some incredulity.

The first time Mr. Noriega was in a lineup, he happened to know the suspect — they were somewhere between acquaintances and friends. The person was accused stealing a necklace from someone’s neck. In the lineup, Mr. Noriega sat next to him.

“He really did the crime,” and during the lineup “he was telling me exactly what he did,” Mr. Noriega recalled. But the witness on the other end of the glass picked out one of the fillers, so the case was dropped, he said.

Mr. Noriega has come up with several observations about how lineups work in practice.  Under the New York Police Department’s Patrol Guide, the suspect gets to choose where in the lineup he wants to be. In Mr. Noriega’s experience, the suspect “always picks the corners, one or six; I don’t know why.”

Generally, the detectives do a pretty good job, Mr. Noreiga said, in minimizing differences in appearance between the fillers and the suspect. The detectives provide hats to hide hairstyles and will sometimes place a sheet in front of everyone to hide the torsos.  But the fillers are not always great matches, he said.

“I’m 19, but I’ve stood in a lineup for a 14-year-old,” he said.  But, he added, “sometimes it’ll be crazy and you really do look like the suspect.”

And what happens if the witness selects Mr. Noriega? As a rule, nothing, Mr. Noriega and several other fillers said in interviews. In other words, no matter how the lineup goes, no filler has to prove where he was on the night of the crime in question.

Mr. Noriega said that detectives will sometimes tell him that the witness picked him instead of the actual suspect. But Mr. Noriega figured that the detectives were just making conversation, and not suggesting that he was under suspicion. Mr. Noriega estimates that the police’s suspect is selected only 70 or 80 percent of the time, and fillers are selected the rest. One detective gave an even lower estimate.

In lineups, Mr. Noriega often finds himself alongside the same fillers over and over again.

There is Eddie Torres, a 25-year-old who sells bottles of water at highway entrances in the Bronx. One day, someone hit him on the head with a baseball bat, he said. Mr. Weston, a stranger, came to his aid and helped him get medical attention, Mr. Torres recalled. Sometime after that, Mr. Torres began doing lineup work for Mr. Weston.

Then there is Orlando Javier Torruellas, 39, and his son Orlando David Torruellas, 17.  In lineup circles, they are known as Javier and Javier Jr.

Mr. Torruellas has known Mr. Weston since 2000, and has been participating in lineups off and on since then. He estimates that he has been in more than 100 lineups, and that his son has been in 40 or so.

Mr. Torruellas expressed confidence in the lineup system and in the ability of most crime victims to select the right person. “If you did something, it doesn’t matter who they put next to you,” he said. “They’ll pick you.”

Mr. Torruellas’s longtime girlfriend, Lourdes Pacheco, has participated in a handful of lineups herself. When she has relatives staying with her, Mr. Weston has sometimes called on them, too, for lineup work.

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