Back from Qatar – A Great Experience

Mar 5th, 2014 - Filed under: Blog,Certification,Training

Well, I’m back from two weeks in Qatar, where I provided the State Security Bureau branch of the Ministry of Interior with some consulting and training services in forensic video, image, and fingerprint analysis – primarily with Adobe Photoshop. The experience was wonderful, and the personnel at the SSB were great to work with.

Most of the training and consulting I provide is in the US, with a smattering in Canada. Over the years I have also provided training in Australia and Singapore. These have all been wonderful experiences and I hope to do more. I invite members of the international forensics community to contact me if they have any needs in forensic video analysis, photographic analysis, or photography – I’d love the opportunity to come and provide some consulting and training.

I will be posting some photographs of this trip on my personal website – so far I’ve only posted some photos of the Museum of Islamic Art – but should get some others up in the coming week.

Off to Qatar

Feb 9th, 2014 - Filed under: Blog

Over the years I have had the opportunity to provide some international training, and this will bring me to Qatar this month (February). I will be providing training in image processing techniques to their forensic video analysts and to their latent fingerprint examiners. This training will enable all of their fingerprint examiners and video analysts to have the same level of training and build upon their specific current capabilities and protocols.

Two years ago I went to Singapore to provide training there. What a beautiful country, and what wonderful hosts the Singapore Police Services were. They were sending a couple of analysts per year for training in the US, which was costing them a bundle, and taking a long time to get everyone the training that they wanted. Bringing the training in-house saved them a lot of time and money, and provided the same training to everyone on their team.

My first opportunity to provide international training was in the 1990s in Queensland, Australia. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was very impressed at the ways that they already implemented the use of digital photography and image processing in several areas of their agency. They were well ahead of everyone else in the use of interactive panorama imaging, integrating maps with hot spots and directional arrows into their panorama files before there was any commercially available software to do so (they wrote their own).

If you work for an agency that needs training in image analysis, forensic photography, or the use of Photoshop in your video analysis, fingerprint examination, or other forensic disciplines, I would love to discuss your training needs. Whether you are in my backyard (Southern California), somewhere else in the US, or in another part of the world, contact me and I’ll do my best to assist in your training needs!

Court Martial

Dec 6th, 2013 - Filed under: Blog

I was in Great Falls, Montana at the Malmstrom Air Force Base for a week in November working on a Court Martial case. It was my second military case, and I thought I’d share a little about the experience here.

Military courts are different than my experience with other courts, in virtually all ways.

To begin, many of the experts attend the entire trial, from motions, to jury selection, through the trial, and even sentencing (if the trial goes to sentencing). There are multiple reasons for this, but one part of it is that the various experts will have the opportunity to collaborate with each other. In this case, I was there to analyze several photographs and testify regarding my findings. A computer forensics expert was there to analyze cell phones, extract photos and text messages, and testify to his findings. A physician, psychiatrist, and a DNA expert were also part of the defense experts in this case. During the course of my analysis, it was important that I consult with the computer forensics expert and the physician as I conducted my analysis – the three of us were able to help each other regarding the analysis of the photographs and in understanding the original source of them.

Another aspect is that by watching the entire trial, we are able to get more information about the evidence we are there to analyze. For instance, the physician testifying for the government presented her interpretation of the photographs that I was there to analyze. By seeing her testimony, I was able to see, first-hand, whether she properly interpreted the photographs, and if the images published to the jury were fair and accurate representations. If not, then I would be prepared to explain those aspects of the images and clarify those issues.

Another difference in a military trial has to do with the court hours. In this case, the experts all arrived on Saturday and Sunday before the trial. We met on Sunday and worked together into the night. Then, the court ran from 8:00 am to after 7:00 pm on several days to keep things moving, with attorneys and experts meeting after court as well. At the end of the day Friday, closing arguments hadn’t yet been made, so court went back in session on Saturday for closing arguments, jury instructions, and to begin deliberations. Then, the sentencing hearing is held immediately afterwards, and the jury deliberated on sentencing on Sunday. Military courts move along, and not much interrupts them!

Having worked on cases in several state courts, federal court, and military courts, I find that there are new and interesting things to learn in each case. Although I wouldn’t recommend that all experts always watch entire trials, I think that more cases can benefit from more collaboration among all of the experts. The information that is discussed among the experts can be very important in fully understanding the evidence that is being analyzed and presented.

Video Analysis – Following the Action

Nov 8th, 2013 - Filed under: Blog

It’s pretty common for security cameras to have low resolution, to use wide angle lenses, and for the significant events to be in the darkest areas far from the camera. And, in these situations, sometimes the identification of the individuals isn’t a question, but the actions of each person are key. Issues such as, who started the fight, who had the weapon, and who was where at what time, are the primary aspects in the video.

There are several ways to work on these cases, and image clarification is at the start. But, even with clarification, sometimes the action is still difficult to follow. In those cases, I have taken several approaches, depending on the situation – I’ll provide a short example to illustrate several approaches.

One approach is to create a “spotlight” that either provides enhancement to an oval around each subject, or subdues the background. The result is a spotlight, or several spotlights, that follow the subject(s) as they move through the video. This is very effective in videos that have only one or two subjects of interest, but who are difficult to discern – either because they blend in with the background, or because there is too much going on in the video.

Another approach is to make a oval or rectangle, outlined in a color, around each subject of interest. Each of these ovals or rectangles can have a different color outline to help distinguish each subject. This works well when the background information is important to see, but it is difficult to track the movements of the key subjects in the video. This can be combined with the spotlight effect.

Dots can also be used. In a case involving a fight with four individuals involved, I placed different color dots above each person’s head in a recent case. Because there were four individuals, and they often were crossing in front of each other on the video, neither the spotlight approach or the ovals worked well, but a simple, color-coded dot made it easy to follow the action in this video.

In one case I had that involved a bar fight, the lighting was bright, but the bar was crowded and the action of the one swing in the fight was difficult to see. None of the above techniques helped. Since the video was black-and-white, I decided to highlight each person with a different color. I basically painted a color over the each key person, making one red, one blue, and the third green. By applying the color with transparency, the color acted as a highlight. This made is very easy to determine the action in this case. I have used this technique in a few cases and have testified about it in court. It has proven to be very effective in making it easy to see the action in a video that is brightly lit, but has a confusing background.

Video analysis is often about determining what is happening in the video – and following the action is one of the keys to this.

Forensic Photographic Analysis – Reverse Projection

Oct 25th, 2013 - Filed under: Blog,Expert Witness,Image Analysis,Photography

Some cases are unique – and this will describe one of those. In this case plaintiff retained me to determine if a photograph of a part was broken. The part was a water jet from a bathtub spa. The person using the spa was injured, and the reason proffered was that one of the legs that hold the jet in place was broken. The hotel personnel recovered the broken jet, placed it on a table and took one photograph of it. Later, the jet was lost before any expert could analyze it.

I was retained to determine if the leg of the water jet in the photograph was broken. The jet had three legs and the one that was believed to be broken was the one on the back side when looking at the photograph. Looking at the photograph, that leg appeared to be at a slightly different angle, but defense claimed that the leg was not broken and that the slight difference in angle may have been from the angle of the photograph, the lighting, the focal length of the camera lens, or simply the way that the jet was positioned on the table – or perhaps it wasn’t at a slightly different angle at all.

Measuring the angles of the legs to the front of the jet wasn’t possible because we had only one image and the leg in question was on the back side of the jet. A 3-D model couldn’t be built because there was only one photograph. But, a reverse projection analysis could be done. Reverse projection involves taking a new photograph from the exact same position as the original image, then one can have the data needed to make comparisons, make measurements, compare lighting, etc.

In this case, plaintiff provided me with a new, unbroken, water jet of the same make and model as in the original photograph. I placed it on a table in the exact same position as in the original. I set up lights to exactly replicate the lighting in the original, with all highlights and shadows matching. I set my camera into the same position that was used in the original photograph, and I took the picture. Next, I created an overlay of the two photographs. The result was conclusive – everything on the two water jets matched except for the one leg. The leg had to be broken on the jet in the original photograph, as there was no other explanation for the difference in the two photographs. The difference between the angle of the leg in the original photograph and in the new photograph were measured, and made part of the illustration.

 

Witness Perspective Photography

Oct 21st, 2013 - Filed under: Blog

What did the witness to a crime see from 40 feet away at 3:00 a.m.? What did the driver see when approaching the intersection at sunset? What could the injured party see in the movie theater before tripping on a stair? I’ve provided this type of photography through Imaging Forensics for over ten years.

Witness perspective photography involves returning to the scene under similar lighting conditions, observing the scene, and photographically recording it so that the trier of fact can see the lighting conditions, perspective, size of objects, etc. from the witness’ point of view. As the photographer, I document, in detail, what I can can see – how much detail there is, what objects are too dark to discern, which are too light, etc.Then I photograph the scene to represent what I could see. I make prints that represent what I was able to see at the scene, under the given lighting conditions, using the proper focal length, print size, and print viewing distance so that the viewer will see all objects at the same size, brightness, contrast, and color as I did when at the scene.

Here are a few examples of cases I’ve worked using this technique:

I worked a defense case last year in which I illustrated what the accused could see in his rearview mirror when pulled over at night by the police. The defense attorney showed my photographs to the prosecuting attorney, and all related charges were then dropped.

A case I previously referred to was a plaintiff case for a woman who fell over a retaining wall in a poorly lit parking lot. In this case the defense photographed the wrong area and used the wrong equipment (giving a false perspective). I photographed the area properly (the right place, the same lighting conditions, the right lens, etc.), and plaintiff received a multi-million dollar settlement.

A third example was an accident in which a driver ran a stop sign resulting in a fatal accident. The family was suing the city over the visibility of the signage and road markings. I was retained by the defense, and provided photography showing the perspective from the drivers seat of the same make, model, and year of vehicle under the same lighting conditions. This case resulted in a summary judgment in favor of the defense.

New Board Members

Oct 17th, 2013 - Filed under: Blog

The Forensic Video Certification Board for the International Association for Identification just announced three new board members. I am proud to be one of them. The other two are Kimberly Meline with the FBI, and Julie Carnes with Target Forensic Services.

I was proud to have served on the Forensic Photography and Imaging Certification Board for seven years, from 2006 to 2013, and as President of that board in 2009 – 2010. I have been certified in Forensic Photography and Imaging since 2005, and have been certified in Forensic Video Examination since 2011. Here is a listing of certified photographers and certified video examiners.

Countering Bad Science

When attorneys get a copy of opposing counsel’s expert reports, sometimes they are quite surprised by what they read – it’s just bad science. And, in these cases they will then retain their own expert to counter, and possibly quash, the other experts opinion. I’ve been retained in numerous cases to do this, and I’ll discuss four to illustrate the benefit this has, and to help illustrate the kind of work that I do.

Recently, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office retained me because they suspected that the forensic video analysis and photogrammetry performed by the defense wasn’t based on science. I was provided with the security video from the business where the crime occurred, and with the report by the defense expert. In this case, the defense expert lacked training and experience in video analysis, photography, and photogrammetry (she opined on all three of these disciplines in her report). She also didn’t follow best practices in the acquisition of the video, and didn’t apply any standard method to the photogrammetry. I provided a report that the prosecutor presented to the defense attorney, and the defense withdrew their experts report.

In a civil case that I previously posted about, the defense hired a photography expert to photograph the scene of an accident to illustrate the level of illumination. This expert photographed the wrong area, used the wrong equipment, and presented photographs that misrepresented the area. I was hired by plaintiff’s attorney to counter his testimony. I went to the scene and photographed the correct area following best practices and properly illustrated the illumination of the area. In addition, I provided cross examination questions, and the opposing expert basically admitted that he just followed directions of others and didn’t know if he photographed the correct area in the proper manner. This resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement for the plaintiff.

In a military court marshal case, the prosecution brought in an expert in photographic comparison. In this case, the expert didn’t follow standard protocols in their comparison and reached a conclusion that was well beyond what could be reached. The defense team brought me in to challenge this testimony. I provided the attorneys with the information they needed to understand the science of photographic comparison and to illustrate the weaknesses in the opposing expert’s report. I also provided cross examination questions, which were used, word-for-word, and resulted in the prosecutor asking defense counsel why they didn’t make a Daubert challenge. The reason was that they believed the strategy of showing the problems of the comparison was stronger then having it quashed in a Daubert hearing.

One last case was one in which the prosecution in a homicide case created a video to illustrate the illumination of the scene. A large segment of it totally misrepresented the scene, and the defense retained me to counter that evidence. I visited the scene and I wrote a report outlining all of the reasons why the police video misrepresented the scene. The defense presented my report to the judge and she ruled that the segment of video could not be used.

These cases involve three different aspects of my work – video analysis, forensic photography, and photographic comparison – but the common thread is that I was retained in each case because these attorneys needed someone to counter bad science presented by opposing counsel. In each case, the attorneys retaining me weren’t planning to use an expert until opposing counsel did so, and they needed someone to counter the bad science that was being presented.

“I need to tell others about you!”

I met with an investigator on a case last week to discuss her need for Forensic Video Analysis in a homicide case. During out meeting, she asked about the other work I do in photographic analysis and photography services. When I finished, she asked me for a handful of cards so she can let other investigators and attorneys know about my services – she said, “I need to tell others about you!” She had already viewed my website, but some of the things weren’t as clear as they could be, and I realized that I could do a better job in explaining what areas of expertise I work in, and when attorneys could use my services.

This post will just introduce this topic, and I’ll follow-up with more specific examples in the coming weeks. Here are the basics of what I do, in the coming posts I’ll discuss each area with examples from cases to illustrate how this applies to a variety of criminal and civil cases.

To begin with, my expertise is in forensic photography, photographic analysis, and video analysis.

In photography, I provide witness perspective photography, illustrative photography, accurate photographs of evidential items, injury photography, etc. I have photographed scenes to show evidence, to measure distances, to show what someone saw, etc.

In photographic analysis, I provide clarification of images that may be too dark, blurry, from a bad angle, etc. I also provide authentication – to determine if the image is a camera original; and if not, to determine if it represents what it purports to (if it’s been Photoshopped). And, I provide comparisons – is the subject in one photograph the same as a known object (same car, same person, same make and model of valve, etc.). I can also help determine the relationship of subjects in the photographs to each other.

In video analysis, I provide evaluation of the video (what is happening, and are there factors that can be causing someone to misinterpret the events in the video); comparison – is the subject in the video the same as the known object; clarification – stabilizing shaky video, deblurring, adjusting brightness and color, etc.); illustration – following the action in the video, synchronizing multiple video files together, combining video with maps, timestamps, or other events to give a more complete picture of the events.

And, of course, I can evaluate the work of opposing experts to see if they have provided a correct view of the evidence.

My next post will discuss a case I worked for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office recently that resulted in the defense withdrawing all of their proffered video evidence.

Personal Photography Website

Oct 12th, 2013 - Filed under: Blog

Since my work involves photography, I decided to include a link to the new website I created where I plan to post some of my personal photographs. It’s at www.georgereis.com.

I’ve only just started it, so there isn’t much there yet, but I hope to work on it some every week. I don’t think I’ll be posting any of my forensic photography there, but who knows?

Please take a look, and if you have any comments – I’d love to hear what you think!