Forensic VR
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Forensic VR

Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond VA on the left. Frame showing spitting officer shown highlighted on the right. Panorama from video stills.

Spitting Video: Optical Illusion Confuses Police and Public

Stabilized, HD source video show officer spat towards road — not ‘on the grass’ and not directly on the detainee.

BRIEF NOTE ON BIAS: I am Canadian and I have been offering my video expertise to Black Lives Matter protesters. I support the 1st amendment. I am against fascism. I have, likely due to privilege, only had neutral or positive interactions with street-level law enforcement.

Nobody should be spitting near anyone in a pandemic. The officer is not wearing a mask and is not following the CDC’s 6ft social distancing guideline. What my analysis seeks to answer: did the officer spit directly on the detainee?

  • 1st Angle: No
  • 2nd Angle: No
  • 3rd Angle: Original file not yet acquired

1st Angle

Three videos, filmed in Richmond VA, June 1st appear to show an officer spitting on a detained protester several times. The most widely shared video has been seen 40,000 times and is captioned “Watch this officer in Richmond, VA spits on a protestor during a global #pandemic multiple times.

Richmond Police released a statement June 2nd on Twitter “A slow motion analysis shows the officers spitting on the grass and not on the detainee who was sitting on a nearby curb. The frequent coughing and spitting was due to exposure to tear gas.”

Neither of these descriptions are entirely correct.

I received two of the three video files directly from the cellphones that captured them. The clearest of the two was, according to metadata, captured on an iPhone XS. This cellphone has a 2x optical ‘telephoto’ and 10x digital zoom. My analysis is that there is no video evidence that an officer spat directly on this detainee. You can watch slow-motion spitting here.

When a camera is zoomed in, depth is difficult to judge and foreground and background elements are ‘compressed’. This, I think, caused a bias in both officers and protesters looking at the same video. Officers saw spitting on grass (~12ft away) protesters saw spitting on the detainee(~4ft away).

Approximate positions of officers standing on the roundabout overlayed on Google Earth. (NOTE: It appears as though the foreground tree was removed recently)

2nd Angle

Filmed from a similar angle as above. According to file metadata, it was captured on an iPhone X. The lens was pointed towards the detainee earlier and captures an earlier spit. Same conclusion as first angle: no video evidence the officer spat directly on the detainee.

3rd Angle

I have requested the source file for the video shared on Facebook. A preliminary analysis shows the first few times the officer leans over in a spitting manner (at 10s, 18s, 20s) are while the gas-masked officer is blocking the view of the detainee. The visible spits are later at 32s, 40s, 58s 1m8s and 1m22s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Voshart is a forensic video consultant. He does video enhancement and 3D reconstructions of crime scenes. His primary occupation is in Virtual Reality in film production (recently: Star Trek: Discovery) and architecture (formerly: Linebox).

BLACK LIVES MATTER

America is in a crisis and clarity is important. If you need video enhancement / analysis: I can be reached via DM on Twitter.

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Daniel Voshart

Daniel Voshart

Design | Cinematography | Criticism