McKinney PD Accused of Destroying Damning Video, But Maybe Their Dash Cams Just Suck

Squad Car Footage from Amy Silverstein on Vimeo.

The allegations against the former McKinney Police Department officer are serious: He was driving too fast, with no siren lights on and making a dangerous lane change before crashing into the car of a man who is now suing him. But there's no footage of any of that. The video from the squad car that allegedly caused the crash is gone. All that remains is this brief clip that doesn't actually capture the accident, or anything interesting at all.

The man's lawsuit alleges there's a sinister reason for all of that. Shortly after the crash between Officer Mark Watson and Illinois resident Brock Bailey, officers from Frisco and McKinney were on the scene. One of the cops from McKinney removed the video system from Watson's vehicle, promising to then provide the footage to Frisco to help with the investigation. But all the video they recovered amounted to that sad little clip posted above.

The video, Bailey's suit alleges, "was negligently or intentionally altered by the City of McKinney." Had the other McKinney officers not messed with the video, Bailey's suit claims, it would have proved the crash was all Officer Watson's fault. "The missing dash cam video would have shown that Watson was traveling at least 98 mph when he steered the police cruiser into the side of Brock's vehicle," the suit says.

If true, it certainly does make the McKinney PD's evidence collection policies sound sketchy. But there could be another reason for the mysterious, disappearing footage, which is that the guy formerly in charge of the department's video system thought it was a pain in the ass that broke frequently.

The McKinney City Council agreed to put down money for a new squad car camera system called WatchGuard just over a year ago. Soon afterward, problems became apparent to then-fleet operations manager Aaron Smith.

"Last week we identified two vehicles (units 26515 and 1317) not recording video data to the vehicles DVR," writes Smith in an August 2013 email to Deputy Police Chief Scott Brewer. (The email was provided to Unfair Park by McKinney Watchdog, a local political group focused on exposing municipal government corruption.)

Smith had tried tried working with WatchGuard's tech support team, he details in the email. In typical tech-support fashion, they had him drive to Allen to pick up some new cables. That seemed to fix the problem with those cars, but Smith identified a graver concern: There was no easy way for officers to know if their dash cams were malfunctioning. "The issue is that the camera system in either vehicle did not give any indication that the DVR was not recording," Smith wrote to his deputy chief. "The officers would naturally assume all was well until they tried to review the videos either on the server or on the in car monitor."

Smith later left the department and became a whistle blower, telling WFAA a few months ago about the department's radar guns. Apparently, those don't work, either. "There is a great possibility that you could get an erroneous reading," he told the station. Smith also recently detailed problems with the radar guns and the WatchGuard system to Town Square Buzz, a local news website devoted to all things McKinney.

Defenders of WatchGuard could point out that McKinney PD isn't the only agency that uses the video system -- in fact, the company won a contract back in 2006 to supply the patrol car videos for the Texas Department of Public Safety. On the other hand, the senator who represents McKinney, state Senator Ken Paxton, was an investor in WatchGuard when he helped get that vote passed, as the News recently reported in a story on Paxton's various conflicts of interest.

Smith, the whistle-blower, retired in December 2013. Watson resigned in January, though he claims he did so under pressure and his resignation is now reportedly under investigation.

Bailey's lawsuit against McKinney is below.

1st Amended Original Petition


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30 comments
hilllbillle
hilllbillle

buying poor quality dashcams ain't no accident. not  only does it put money in their business friends pockets, it keeps alive the plausible deniability of disappearing dashcamn footage to use any time it's needed.

murphyjr1031
murphyjr1031

The Officer in question had a reputation for being overaggressive. In a January 2013 deposition he stated he had been on the force for two years. In those two years he had been investigated for 4 times by his own admission for use of excessive force. Keep in mind, although crime occurs everywhere, his patrol area was in West McKinney, hardly known as an area where aggressive police tactics are required.


He also had a reputation of skirting policies and procedures for personal vendettas. Although I have no direct knowledge of this being true, I was told he hung out with a group of officers who used steroids, and that he had a reputation for being sexist toward his female counterparts.


He was absolutely forced to resign. The police department was well aware that Officer Watson was at best an extreme narcissist long before this accident occurred. For a perfect example of the narcissistic personality at work, read the Sunday Metro Section of the DMN last week. He never expresses any sorrow for the victim, but he does claim he was forced to resign and was not paid promised sick pay.

The accident occurred in Frisco, and it was investigated in Frisco, yet the dash cam was given to the officers on the scene from McKinney. This was a dirty cover-up. The City knows it, the Chief knows it.


Whatever in dispute, the officer was going at extreme rates of speed responding to a non-emergency call with no lights or siren on on and it was nighttime. A man who was minding his own business and following the law was almost killed. If an ordinary citizen had caused the accident he would have been charged with Vehicular Assault at the very minimum.


I hope the City chooses the right course of action and settles with the victim. It's just the right thing to do.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

If every Russian working stiff can put an efficient, affordable camera on his dash, how is it the the McKinney PD can't manage? 

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

I really have to wonder about the dashcam technology Watchguard uses. There are any number of very reliable systems available on Amazon for under $200.

I'm betting McKinney got taken to the cleaners on this one.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

There's an old playground saying in reference to baseball: "Tie goes to the runner."

In the future we should adopt a policy that, in the absence of video, we assume the officer is the guilty party.

I bet we would have a lot fewer 'missing video' incidents.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

on the occasion that I get pulled over, I record audio of the stop but not video.  I start my phones recorder and leave it in the seat.  I dont want them knowing Im videoing them bc I dont want them to act any differently than they normally would

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Once was a cop with a dash cam,

Who made sure it was good for the ashcan.

While speeding that Wednesday

He hit a red Hyundai,

Now he will pay lots for the slam.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Dashcams are cheap, I've had one for a couple years, just in case.

Of course, if an accident is my fault, I don't have a dashcam.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Tim.Covington

And if McKinney was exorbitant-ed (heh), multiply that by the state-wide contract for DPS. Of course, now that Ken Paxton is headed for the AG's office, we'll never see any investigation.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

That is supposed to already be the rule. This is a clear case of spoliation (either by negligence or intentional.)

http://www.jha.com/us/blog/?blogID=1381

The jury should be given an instruction to assume that the tape would have shown what the plaintiff says is true, or it wouldn't have been destroyed.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin Smart move. I'd go a step further and video every encounter. It's absolutely legal and will forestall officer assholery.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

You have perfected the public servant mentality.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@bmarvel @ScottsMerkin


Whether it's legal depends on what state you're in.


Some states make it a crime to record official misconduct.


TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@ozonelarryb

Finally.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@EnochMunch @bmarvel @ScottsMerkin Thank you EnochMunch for this reference, one of many that firmly establish a citizen's right to photograph police.

The relevant passage: "Based on Gericke's version of the facts, we conclude that she was exercising a clearly established First Amendment right when she attempted to film the traffic stop..."

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay Such laws have not stood up to federal court scrutiny. (One example of how the big, nasty old federal government can actually protect citizens' rights.)

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@paulpsycho78 @bmarvel @lebowski300 I've heard that whine since the 1960s, psychopaul. Then it was the psychopathic left. Now it's the psychopathic right.

Big bucks can sometimes buy you a pretty good lawyer. That's about as far as it goes.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@bmarvel 


The 7th Circuit Court found a specific First Amendment right to record police officers. It's the second federal appeals court to strike down a conviction for recording police. In August 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled that a man wrongly arrested for recording cops could sue the arresting officers for violating his First Amendment rights.


That decision also found a broad First Amendment right to record on-duty government officials in public: "Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting 'the free discussion of governmental affairs.'" And in fact, in that it strips police who make such arrests of their immunity from lawsuits, it's an even stronger opinion. Of course, the police themselves rarely pay damages in such suits -- taxpayers do.


The Supreme Court's refusal to grant certiorari in the case doesn't necessarily mean the justices endorse the lower court's ruling. But it does mean that at least six of the current justices weren't so opposed to the ruling that they felt the case needed to be heard.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay @bmarvel Knew all that, Donkey. Wrote about it in the pages of the DMN some time ago. My point remains: Any effort to restrict citizens' rights to photograph police activities, including arrests, faces an almost impossible battle in federal courts.

So I urge all citizens left, right and center interested in protecting individual liberties to insist police maintain dash cameras and to themselves photograph that arrest or traffic stop for their own protection.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@bmarvel "Knew all that, Donkey. Wrote about it in the pages of the DMN some time ago"


Why so defensive?


NewsFlash -- it isn't always about YOU, there are other readers of these blogs who may learn from new -- to them -- information.


hth.

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