Critically important video in Kendrick Johnson case is coincidentally missing

December 20, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Good Morning:

CNN reported yesterday that Michael Moore, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, issued a grand jury subpoena to seize the original hard drives of the video surveillance system at the Lowndes County High School.

Victor Blackwell of CNN demonstrates on Anderson 360 why they are important during this interview of Grant Fredericks, a forensic video analyst hired by CNN “to analyze more than 290 hours of material from all 35 cameras inside and outside of the gym. Fredericks is a U.S. Justice Department consultant and contract instructor for the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.”

VB: CNN has hired Grant Fredericks and his team at Forensic Video Solutions to analyze the hundreds of hours of surveillance from Lowndes High School, Although he does not believe the jumpy video is the result of editing, he says there are some other major problems.

GF: Those files are not original files. They’re not something that an investigator should rely on for the truth of the video. They’ve been altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information, information lost. They’re also a number of files that have been corrupted because they have not been processed correctly and they’re not playable. I can’t say why they were done that way but they were not done correctly and they were not done thoroughly. So, we’re missing information.

VB: Fredericks says that’s probably due to how a investigators acquired the surveillance video.

GF: Right now, what they’ve done is they have left it up to the school district to define what it is they want to provide to the police, and I think that probably is a mistake.

VB: According to Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office incident reports, a detective watched a portion of the surveillance video the day Kendrick Johnson was found. Then he asked the school board’s information technology worker for a copy of the surveillance video for the entire wing of the school with the old gym for the last 48 hours. Five days later, that IT worker provided a hard drive and, according to the incident report, the detective said it contained the requested surveillance video.

GH: The investigator’s responsibility is to acquire the entire digital video recording system and then have their staff define what they want to obtain. You don’t want somebody who might be a party to the responsibility to make a decision regarding what they will provide to the police.

VB: And after hours of analysis, Fredericks questions whether Lowndes County Schools provided all of the surveillance video from the old gym to investigators.

GF: There is a hole of time where none of the cameras provide any of the record that I’ve been provided.

VB: Fredericks has all of the cameras and all of the angles and all of the video released by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.

GF: There are 4 cameras in the gym that record motion from the time lights turn on in the morning until when the lights are turned off at night, except for the area of interest.

VB: The moment before Kendrick Johnson enters the gym. Look at what happens to the recordings from these four cameras in the gym. The time is recorded with the video.

The first camera captures images from the start of the day until 12:04 pm, then, nothing. It picks up again at 1:09 pm.

There’s consistent surveillance from the second camera until 11:05 am. Then it stops and picks up more than two hours later at 1:15 pm.

The third camera also drops at 11:05 am. It picks up again at 1:16 pm.

And from the final camera, there’s surveillance until 12:04 pm. No recording for more than an hour. Then it picks up again at 1:09 pm.

GF: I would absolutely expect there would be some record of that activity and we don’t have any here.

VB: Here’s why Frederick would have expected the motion activated system to record during that time. During that hour and five minutes, several students can be seen walking into and out of the old gym from the surveillance camera just outside the gym door.

We count seven male students and three of them walk into the gym within three minutes prior to Kendrick walking into the gym.

GF: I can’t tell you whether there was no information recorded in the video system or whether somebody made an error or whether someone made an error and didn’t capture it or whether somebody just didn’t provide it.

VB: When surveillance in the gym resumes at 1:09 pm, we can see just these few frames of Kendrick Johnson running in the gym.

Here’s that moment from all of the cameras in the gym, although there’s a record from only two, and the camera just outside the door. Notice the hall camera time stamp appears to be 10 minutes behind and there’s no confirmation that either camera matches the exact time of day. It is the last time his image is captured on video. For the next hour, there are multiple gaps in the video surveillance for the gym.

And that is crucial, It’s a really important time.

GF: Well, it really is the only option to answer the question of what really happened.

VB: And there’s no video showing the initial discovery of a body in the gym. The next time we see Kendrick Johnson is the following day when he’s being wheeled out of they gym in a body bag.

Do you believe that it’s a coincidence that that time period in the gym is missing?

GF: Oh, boy. Investigators are always suspicious, and should be suspicious it’s suspicious that that time period is not there, so yes, I would be suspicious and until I have the digital video system in my hands and I can say or an investigator can say everything is intact, this was what was recorded, I would still be highly suspicious of this.

VB: So after fighting for months on a city street corner and in the county courthouse to get the surveillance video, Kendrick Johnson’s parents still do not know who was in the gym before Kendrick ran in, nor who, if anyone, was there or what happened in those moments afterward.

We also know from previous reports that video recorded from the only camera aimed at the area where Kendrick Johnson’s body was discovered is blurry.

The probability that all of the missing and blurry video is coincidental must be vanishingly small.

There appears to be something rotten in Lowndes County, Georgia and the corruption runs deep and sloppy.

In this case, I can confidently conclude that absence of evidence is not proof of absence.

Let’ts hope the missing evidence has not been destroyed and can be retrieved from the original hard drives.


Kendrick Johnson and the importance of collecting and preserving evidence

November 23, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Good afternoon:

The disagreements about the videotape evidence in the Kendrick Johnson case demonstrate the importance of establishing and following procedures regarding the acquisition and preservation of evidence by law enforcement personnel.

Acquisition of Evidence

Evidence can consist of real (land) and personal (things) property. Personal property includes statements, documents and photographs as well as audio and video recordings and the hard drives of computers and cell phones.

Personal property can be acquired from a person, business or organization by abandonment, consent, plain view seizure, Terry patdown, plain feel seizure, search incident to arrest, search authorized by warrant, inventory search, subpoena duces tecum.

Abandoned property is free for the taking. Anyone can seize it without the former owner’s permission.

Property may be seized from a person, business or organization by obtaining consent freely and voluntarily given by the person or authorized representative of a business or organization.

Police may seize any property they immediately recognize as evidence of a crime without consent or a search warrant, if it is in plain view and they have a right to be where they are doing what they are doing.

Pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, police may stop and temporarily detain a person whom they reasonably suspect has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime in order to identify the person and briefly investigate the suspicion. To protect themselves, they may also pat down the suspect’s outer clothing and seize anything that feels like a weapon or controlled substance.

Police may arrest and search a person, if they have probable cause to believe that he or she has committed a felony. This is a search incident to arrest.

Upon a showing of probable cause to believe that certain property such as a vehicle, airplane, boat, residence or business, contains evidence of a particular crime, police may obtain a search warrant from a neutral and detached magistrate or judge authorizing them to search the property and seize that evidence. The Affidavit for Search Warrant in Philip Chism’s case, which was unsealed yesterday after a grand jury indicted him, is an example of an application for a search warrant and it reveals some, but probably not all, of the information obtained by police at that point in the investigation. Affidavits for search warrants are excellent sources for discovery material and, with the exception of a client’s statements, they are the only discovery a criminal-defense lawyer gets before trial in a federal case.

A search-warrant return is an itemized list of all of the property seized during the search authorized by a search warrant. Such a search is called executing the search warrant.

Inventory searches are routine searches of property seized by police, such as a vehicle or a wallet or purse, to itemize the contents. These types of searches occasionally result in a discovery of incriminating evidence. They do not require probable cause, so long as the police lawfully acquired the property being searched and inventoried.

A subpoena duces tecum is a subpoena (i.e., order to appear and testify at a hearing or deposition) to bring specified documents or property to the hearing or deposition.

Preservation of Evidence

With the exception of wet clothing or other wet evidence, every item seized must be maintained in the condition it was in when seized. Wet items must be dried to prevent contamination and possible destruction by fungus or bacteria. Each item must be separately packaged in sealed plastic or paper bags. Clothing and bedding should always be stored in sealed paper bags. Controlled substances must be described, weighed and packaged in sealed plastic bags. All evidence seized must be assigned a number, inventoried and stored in a secure area within the police department that is conducting the investigation.

Each evidence unit must maintain a log or record listing from whom and when evidence was received or to whom it was released and for what purpose.

Chain of Custody

Every item of evidence has a history beginning with who, when and where they seized it, who packaged it, who delivered it to the evidence unit and who logged and stored it away. Every time that item was examined, who examined it and for what reason must be documented in the log. If sent out for analysis and returned, the net weight of the item after testing must equal the difference between its original weight minus the weight of the amount removed for testing.

The chain of custody is the documentation of every human contact with a particular item in evidence. Police are required to document every contact so that defendants, lawyers, judges and juries can know that a particular item in evidence is in the same condition that it was when seized with any differences documented and explained.

A material break in the chain of custody should result in the exclusion of that item of evidence at trial.

The videotapes in KJ’s case

At this point, substantial questions exist regarding the videotapes, including whether they are complete and/or have been subjected to tampering.

I am especially troubled by the remarkable “coincidence” that the only camera focused on the area where the mats are stored and Kendrick’s body was found recorded an out-of-focus or blurry video.

Coupled with other evidence we have reviewed and the failure of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s deputies to immediately seize and preserve all of the videotape evidence, I believe I have a legitimate concern that evidence of a murder may have been destroyed or subjected to tampering in order to protect the person or persons responsible for KJ’s death.

Conclusion

Something is rotten in Denmark and the FBI has a duty to KJ’s family, we the people and to itself (since two sons of a special agent are potential suspects) to figure it out.


CNN reports that important video may be missing in Kendrick Johnson case

November 22, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Good evening:

Food for thought.

Here’s a late report from yesterday evening about the school video in the Kendrick Johnson case.

Victor Blackwell of CNN reports that CNN,

hired forensic video analyst Grant Fredericks to analyze more than 290 hours of material from all 35 cameras inside and outside of the gym. Fredericks is a U.S. Justice Department consultant and contract instructor for the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

CNN also provided Fredericks and his company, the Spokane, Washington-based Forensic Video Solutions, with hundreds more hours of video from 31 cameras in other parts of Lowndes County High School.

/snip/

What Fredericks wasn’t able to find was video showing whether there was anyone in the gym when Johnson was there — images that could prove vital in determining how the teen died.

“(The surveillance video has) been altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information, information loss,” he said. “There are also a number of files that are corrupted because they’ve not been processed correctly and they’re not playable. I can’t say why they were done that way, but they were not done correctly, and they were not done thoroughly. So we’re missing information.”

/snip/

Fredericks told CNN he found it “highly suspicious” that an hour of video could be missing, especially considering how the material was acquired by police.

“The investigator’s responsibility is to acquire the entire digital video recording system and have their staff define what they want to obtain,” he said.


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