Police use ‘fake news’ in sting aimed at California gang

Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin addresses reporters during a press conference about Operation Matador. It was recently revealed that Martin and his department issued a fake press release as a tactic, he said, that saved lives and helped add convincing evidence against the members of MS-13 currently awaiting trial. (Len Wood/The Santa Maria Times via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California police chief is defending his decision to issue a fake press release reporting the arrest of two gang members as a ruse to mislead rivals who planned to kill them.

Santa Maria Chief Ralph Martin said Friday the tactic saved two lives and helped extend an investigation that took down 17 gang members for 10 slayings and plots to kill eight others, including the two men placed in protective custody.

News organizations that unwittingly reported the bogus release in February have criticized the unusual tactic, discovered recently in a court filing involving the gang members.

Kendra Martinez of KSBY-TV says she was “deeply troubled” by the deception that could erode public trust.

News of the fake release comes as news organizations try to set the record straight amid a proliferation of fake news on social media and elsewhere.