Citizen videos help the police do their job

Videos of police incidents are helpful to the police, right? They can help solve crime because they preserve an accurate record of who did what to whom, they can help in determining whether and when a crime occurred, and they can obviously be of great assistance in identifying criminals. So it seems to be almost a no-brainer that the police should welcome them.

It may sound counterintuitive, but two unrelated incidents -- one here in Ann Arbor and another in Detroit -- lend credence to an idea I have seen expressed before -- that police do not like video cameras.

In Ann Arbor, a 19 year old driver was beaten so badly by a mob that he required hospitalization. The incident was witnessed by University of Michigan students, one of whom captured it on video on his digital camera. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of giving the memory card to the police, who now say that they lost it:

LSA seniors Brian Barton and Zachary Ward said they took pictures of brutal beating on Barton's digital camera shortly before the attack, then a video once it began. After giving a statement to AAPD, Barton said he handed over his memory stick to be used as possible evidence.

The next day, Barton said he received a call from an AAPD officer who had been in possession of his memory card telling him that the memory card had been lost before police had viewed it.

Barton and Ward said they believe the police department has dropped the ball on the whole situation.

Ward said he believes the memory card could have been essential in identifying the assailants and that its loss demonstrates the police department's mishandling of the incident.

"Losing the memory card was a vital piece of evidence," Ward said. "That could have easily identified the people involved or at least been on the news to show people and make them aware of the current problems with violence on campus."
AAPD Sgt. Mike Lance, who arrived at the scene of the beating, was unable to comment on the loss of the memory card when interviewed by a Daily reporter last night, stating that he was unaware one had been turned over to police or which police officer would have taken it.

Ward said he believes the AAPD has "made a mess" of the incident.

It certainly makes it easier not to do anything, and I suspect that had the attackers targeted a police car, that memory stick would have been preserved more carefully. Obviously, this is speculation on my part, but I think there is a lesson here.

If you are lucky enough to have a camera on hand and capture an incident like this, don't just give the memory stick to the police. You do not have to -- and you can always provide it later if there's a subpoena, and if the officer insists on having it, tell him to get a warrant. That will at least guarantee a paper trail. In this incident, even though there are now numerous accounts (including an MSNBC version), and a police spokesperson has taken charge of the official fudging, it still isn't clear who lost the memory card, or how. I'm amazed at how little is known about this incident; the reports are not even clear on whether the victim or his many attackers were students.

I know it will sound cynical, but a part of me suspects that someone did not want the video to ever see the light of day.

In Detroit, OTOH, a very different situation was presented. Sean Harrington, the owner of a very popular local destination spot called the Town Pump Tavern, caught an employee stealing, and called the cops for help. But instead of arresting the employee, the cops arrested the owner, Harrington. Apparently, the employee stated that Harrington hit him and he pulled a knife in self defense. Harrington says he never struck him, that the video confirmed this, and that the police refused to view the video. Instead (claims Harrington), Detroit police subjected him to 24 hours of what might be called "street justice":

If the tape truly tells the tale, Sean Harrington may have argued with an employee, but he never struck him.

Still, Harrington spent more than 24 hours behind bars last week before he was charged with misdemeanor assault.

The incident has Harrington, owner of the popular Town Pump Tavern, near the Fox Theatre, claiming he is afraid to call Detroit Police in the future and comparing police holding cells to "a gulag."

Police respond that the case was handled by the book.

I'd like to see precisely what "book" it is they're talking about. Remember, Detroit is a city where police are known for not coming at all when you call them, are barely able to prosecute most murders, and burglaries have become "low priority" crimes.

Back to the incident at the Town Pump Tavern:

Both sides agree that Harrington confronted Aric Walden, who he suspected of stealing food. According to a police report the Free Press reviewed, Walden said he "borrowed" two eggs. Harrington said he yelled at, then fired, Walden.

The police report says: "Harrington struck ... Walden to the right side of his head near his ear ... Walden grabbed a knife to defend himself ... and fled."

Surveillance video supplied by Harrington's lawyer shows the men exchanging words before Walden leaves.

Harrington said police refused to watch the surveillance video, stuffed him into a squad car and took a roundabout route to the Northeast District while blaring rap music and refusing to loosen cuffs he said were making his hands numb. Over the next 24 hours, Harrington and his lawyer said, police refused to say whether he was being charged. He said he was in a cell smeared with vomit and diarrhea.

When former U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins, who also is representing Harrington, brought a signed judicial order for his release, officers directed Collins to another police facility.

Before Collins returned, Harrington was charged with misdemeanor assault and released. He is due in court today.

Police spokesman John Roach said because Harrington was locked up for less than 48 hours before he was charged, "I don't see any problem at all with the actions that were taken."

Well, it certainly doesn't inspire me to open a business in Detroit, or expect to have any confidence in calling the police if I had a problem.

Sure, it's possible that Harrington is making all of this up, but what about the video? If it vindicates him, that would seem to raise basic questions about whose side the police are on ("priorities"?) -- something unpleasant to contemplate, but which might explain why the police would refuse even to take a look at the video before arresting the owner of a thriving business which directly contributes to the economic benefit to a city which is for the most part dying and hopeless. But again, this is speculation on my part.

Might the simpler explanation be that police just do not like videos?

Maybe, except that isn't an explanation.

CORRECTION: Earlier, I incorrectly stated that the driver was dragged from his car and beaten by the mob, when he got out of the car first, and was then beaten. Error corrected.

posted by Eric on 11.10.09 at 11:43 AM


Detroit. That's all there is to say about it. Third world mecca.

Of course, there are a number of other stories on the web regarding police and DA ineptness, corruption, etc. None of which will be investigated the US Atty's office, FBI, etc.

Rights aren't for little people. Big O and the gang of five know that.

Hoss   ·  November 10, 2009 11:59 AM

Videos aren't lies, threats, torture or death, and anything that isn't is poison to the law.

I know it will sound cynical, but a part of me suspects that someone did not want the video to ever see the light of day.

Cops almost never lose evidence, but they frequently steal or destroy it. Most likely, some cop's, politician's, or "prominent citizen's" kid was in the violent mob. The law has no business with them.

guy on internet   ·  November 10, 2009 1:04 PM

Yeah, I don't believe that it was lost. I do believe that spoliation of evidence is the SOP for police across the country, though. I bet they insisted that they had to have the original, too.

Phelps   ·  November 10, 2009 8:10 PM

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