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Message From Dave Zulawski, CFI

Message From Dave Zulawski, CFI

Written Statement Key to Positive Verdict


Recently, it was my pleasure to serve as an expert witness for a retailer that was engaged in a legal battle regarding an alleged false confession and episode of false imprisonment.

Clearly the topic of false confessions should be handled very seriously.  At Wicklander-Zulawski, it is regularly the top fear of loss prevention executives across the country.

Below is an article discussing my most recent experience…

For this national retailer, they were in the middle of the worst case scenario for every loss prevention professional and executive out there. Lawyers and a former associate claiming false confession and false imprisonment.

The unfortunate situation had already been played out in the media.  The retailer was portrayed as the unfair giant coercing a low-level beloved associate into confessing to a minimal loss by using horrific tactics such as lying, coercion, and threatening imprisonment.  As with any legal situation, the company was unable to comment on the facts of the case or more importantly the background of proven thievery of this supposed “innocent” associate.

Regardless of a retailer’s footprint across the country, a lawsuit is the number one fear in the complex industry of discovering truth.

One could conduct an analysis the entire trial to determine success since many factors played a role; the defense attorneys, competent truthful witnesses, superior company inventory system, and the truth.  However all these pieces were supported by one very important element; the written statement.

The written statement penned by the hand of the “innocent employee” was the proverbial lynchpin, and the jury knew it.   The written statement included the vital elements of the theft admission, the employee’s mind set, and his fabricated story.  It was a “moment frozen in time that was voluntary and given without threats or promises” as described by David E. Zulawski, CFI, CFE, Senior Partner, Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, Inc., an expert witness for the embattled retailer. The written statement taken in that moment in time provided the foundation for this retailer’s defense supported by the testimony of others.

Another important aspect of the statement was the inclusion of the elements of the crime of theft.  It also captured the employee’s fabricated story that was later disproved with further investigation.  The associate could say anything he wanted after the fact, such as, he was held against his will and threatened with arrest, but it wasn’t in his statement. He didn’t write those things in the moment.  He wasn’t even begging for his job, his freedom or claiming he didn’t steal anything in the statement.  He was only writing exactly what truly happened in that room that day; as well as his own personal version of the truth, admitting to theft.

The day following his suspension he called Human Resources to discuss his treatment in the interview room that day.  During that conversation, he doesn’t say he didn’t steal anything, claim he was held against his will, or assert he was threatened.  His only complaint was he didn’t like the way he was, “talked to.” It is only much later after he was terminated does he mention the false confession and imprisonment.

How do we know?  The written statement.

False confessions do exist and are an absolutely serious facet of the interviewing or interrogation field.  They are something every interviewer should be aware of and it should be guarded against as a matter of course.  Protecting the innocent is priority one.

False confessions are as complex cognitively as the actual interview technique used to obtain an admission from the guilty.  If this employee was truly falsely confessing, he would have said that in the written statement or to management or even when speaking with Human Resources after he was terminated. He would have said something like, “I lied because I would have said anything to get out of that room.  I was scared.”

However, in this case the employee’s written statement could be analyzed to understand the dishonest employee’s mind set.  It would have looked and read differently.  If his will truly was “broken” as he states in his civil complaint, it would have been evident in the written statement, yet there he voices his written statement the investigator didn’t believe him.  If he was truly hopeless he also would have likely confessed to the numerous other items that substantial evidence pointed to him stealing.  It’s important to note that within his written statement he stated he “disagreed” with the accusation of the additional stolen merchandise.  Expert testimony provided by Zulawski confirmed an individual would not be playing both sides of the statement fence saying his “will was broken” by the interview, but composing a statement that was combative in one section stating he “disagreed” with his accusers.  It all came back to the written statement.


The verdict was in.  The power of the testimony and the written statement were clear.  The jury returned a quick verdict finding for the company clearing them of all the alleged charges.  The judge ordered the plaintiff to pay court costs closing a long expensive trial.

The biggest fear of any loss prevention, security, human resources or legal professional is a false confession, false imprisonment or fraud claim resulting in lawsuits and court dates.  The savior of all of those fears comes down to one vitally crucial element: the written statement.

What is the content of your team’s written statements?