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home : news : local   April 29, 2016

8/30/2013 6:00:00 AM
Utica police tapes under fire

Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter

OTTAWA — Utica police record traffic stops on VHS tapes using second-hand camcorders from departments that went digital years ago. Utica’s chief has admitted that just one in three works well.
Now, the lawyer for an out-of-state drug suspect arrested in Utica says the resulting tape is so flawed it shouldn’t be admissible in a court of law.
La Salle County’s chief judge could decide as soon as Sept. 12 whether the tape is admissible and whether the drug bust will stand.
Thursday, Morris defense attorney Randy Gordon wrapped up a motion to suppress evidence for his client, a Massachusetts man who last year was charged with hauling 67 pounds of marijuana. Gordon argues that the case against Eric Litwin should be dropped because the tape recording is unreliable.
In fact, the video expert Gordon hired said Thursday he hadn’t even seen a police VHS recording in several years; most departments use digital equipment these days.
“I haven’t seen a VHS recording from a police department since I did a case from Lima, Ohio probably six years ago,” testified Ed Primeau, an expert who analyzed tape in Florida’s Trayvon Martin shooting.
Primeau began testifying in the Litwin case on Aug. 21 but the hearing had to be halted when La Salle County prosecutors couldn’t readily get their hands on a VCR to play the now-disputed tape in open court.
When the hearing resumed Thursday, Primeau testified he found numerous abnormalities not only in Utica’s VHS tape but also with a separate digital recording taken by a state police trooper who arrived at the scene to assist.
“Neither video, in the current form, is reliable nor authentic,” Primeau wrote in a July 17 supplement to his analysis of both videos.
If Ryan agrees, out goes the footage from Litwin’s traffic stop on March 11, 2012 — and with the disputed footage could go prosecutors’ chances of making the pot charge stick.
Ryan agreed to give assistant La Salle County state’s attorney Laura Hall two weeks to find another video expert to see if Primeau’s assessment of the videos is correct. The judge gave no hints as to his opinion of Primeau’s testimony or the disputed videos.
But Ryan has previously been on record disapproving of police video equipment that isn’t properly maintained. He openly critiqued police handling of cameras in a 2010 hearing after prosecutors announced the recording from an Interstate 80 drug stop (the defendant was later acquitted) had disappeared. The missing footage was later recovered.
“That’s just damn sloppiness is what it is and laziness,” Ryan said at the time. “This is what I’ve got to hear all the time.”
He added later: “You know, we’ve got cameras in cars and nobody maintains them. I hear this all the time and it’s getting old.”
Ryan’s comments led to a NewsTribune analysis in 2010 showing wide discrepancies in the quality and reliability of cameras used by police in the Illinois Valley. Peru and Ottawa police use cutting-edge systems, the analysis showed, while Utica stood out for using the oldest and most obsolete equipment.
Police chief Mark Wren said at the time Utica’s three squad cars each were outfitted with used VHS cameras but only one worked reliably.
“The VHS is so outdated it’s undependable,” Wren said then. “I have one that I pieced together with parts that other departments have thrown away.”

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 223-3206 Ext. 130 or

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013
Article comment by: Anonymous95970

Why are these cow-town deputies on interstate 80 leave that for the state troopers and go back to dealing with Otis.

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