Pittsfield Police booking videos lost in hard drive crash
PITTSFIELD — A number of Pittsfield Police booking videos have been lost due to the failure of a department hard drive, according to a statement released on Thursday by Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.
It was unclear exactly how many videos were lost prior to the July 9 crash or how far back the drive dated, but documents relating to the matter indicate that the 80 gigabyte hard drive could hold "up to 1,000."
Officials so far have identified only one case that has been affected by the loss of evidence.
"As with any organization requiring an increased dependence on technology, we do experience periodic equipment failures," the statement read. "Unfortunately, as this failure demonstrates, our breakdowns sometimes result in high profile exposure."
The drive began to malfunction in late June, Wynn said, and it went down completely July 9. A new hard drive was installed in the DVR system the same day.
Wynn said the crash did not impact any other records, and he noted that booking videos are not required by the state.
He said constraints in the current budget prevented the replacement of the eight-year-old DVR system; the $30,000 cost for an upgrade will be submitted as a part of next year's budget. That level upgrade, however, will not provide for backups or redundancies, he said.
As part of a long-standing internal policy, the department records bookings of suspects to show their condition, demonstrate the department provided medical attention, if needed and access to a phone call, show Miranda rights were given and to document the date and time, Wynn said.
When those videos are requested, they are sent electronically via data transfer to the District Attorney's Office, which then downloads them to a disc and provides a copy to defense counsel, according to court records. The DA's office was notified about the lost data on July 13.
Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless said he told his assistant district attorneys that booking videos contained on that hard drive would not be available and they should inform defense attorneys of that if and when they requested them.
Capeless said he's only aware of one instance in which the lack of a booking video has become a factor.
During a June 15 hearing in an OUI case, attorney Josh Hochberg requested the booking video showing his client's May 24 arrest. The state was ordered to produce the video by July 2.
According to an internal Police Department email dated July 1, "booking videos for the DA's office" could not be retrieved from the drive. Hochberg was notified via email on Aug. 7 that Pittsfield Police had no access to any booking video prior to July 9, which included the one he was seeking.
About $1,300 was obtained in October to have the drive sent to a California company that specializes in retrieving data in an attempt to recover the video Hochberg was seeking, but those efforts were unsuccessful, Wynn said.
In advance of a hearing on the matter Dec. 4, Hochberg filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the video could have helped exonerate his client if it showed he was not intoxicated or countered police observations.
But Judge Michael Ripps denied the motion, noting there was not enough evidence presented that the video would exonerate the defendant and that the crash of the hard drive and the resulting data loss was not due to negligence on the department's behalf.
"There is no evidence that the drive had previously failed, or that police should have suspected an issue with the drive," he ruled in a Jan. 8 decision. "Instead, the failure of the drive is in the category of happenstance."
He noted the only possible negligence demonstrated was not having a backup system in place or some other method to preserve the data.
"The court has considered whether this level of negligence is sanctionable to the extent that it might consider whether police testimony about the defendant's appearance, condition, behavior or statements in the station should be suppressed and has decided that it should not," Ripps wrote.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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