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Video forensics clear suspect in Federal Way Transit Center homicide; investigation exposes shortcomings in surveillance
Video forensics helped clear a suspect who was held in jail for nearly a year after a Federal Way shooting.
King County prosecutors dismissed charges against Glenn C. Proctor, 21, formerly accused of second-degree murder of a woman shot to death at the Federal Way Transit Center in January 2008.
"He is now a key witness to a murder because now they're looking for the real shooter," said Diane Zumwalt, one of Proctor's attorneys who spent 11 months on the case. Proctor pleaded not guilty to the charges in February 2008; his trial had been set for Jan. 20.
Police had probable cause for Proctor's arrest last year. Proctor became a suspect based on an eyewitness testimony, reports said. It is unclear if the witness lied or if this is a case of mistaken identity, Zumwalt said.
"It took all year to gather evidence to establish that he was not the shooter," said Zumwalt, who handled the case along with attorney Mark Prothero. Photos taken from a cell phone also established that Proctor was wearing a particular piece of clothing that did not match the shooter's clothing, Zumwalt said. The attorneys are exploring possibilities for civil action, Zumwalt said.
Proctor's attorneys recruited the services of a Renton-based media service to analyze surveillance video of the shooting.
Tom Sandor, an electronics engineer at Envision Digital, works regularly with the legal community. As a leading expert in video and photo forensics, Sandor developed a program called Cranial Relative Comparative Measurement. The program converts facial features into mathematical formulas.
Sandor compared a photo of the shooter and two photos of Proctor that were taken in jail. Sandor compared facial features related to bone structure in the hairline, brow and upper lip. With the program, Sandor found substantial differences that proved Proctor was not the shooter — resulting in Proctor's release from jail.
"You can see visually that this guy who was the shooter had a much higher forehead," Sandor said.
However, the road to that conclusion exposed shortcomings of surveillance footage and equipment at the Federal Way Transit Center. The footage of the shooting was of poor quality, Sandor said. When he joined the investigation in June, Sandor spent months trying to track down higher quality footage because the digital images available were too compressed and unusable, he said.
"I was totally taken aback by the primitive setup they had," Sandor said of the Federal Way Transit Center's surveillance equipment and computers. "It's almost impossible to have quality video on such a computer."
Once a Federal Way police detective helped secure the original downloaded video footage in December, Sandor was able to implement his program, make the comparisons and prove Proctor was not the shooter, he said.
"It's a tremendous satisfaction to see an innocent guy freed from jail because of my work," Sandor said.
Sandor, who has worked in forensic video for the past 15 years, has recently seen a marked increase in requests for his services. Sandor said poor surveillance footage often hinders investigations, including murder cases in which a suspect cannot be identified.
"The biggest problem is that surveillance is of such poor quality," he said. "Those who install those systems have no idea of the photographic requirement to make a good picture."
The Proctor investigation also involved a key out-of-state witness whose testimony was made possible by Sandor's findings.
Benito Cervantes of Tukwila-based Cervantes and Holmes Investigations interviewed an out-of-state witness who was identified in the surveillance video. Sandor's assistance was instrumental in identifying the witness and clearing Proctor as the suspect, Cervantes said.
Cervantes could not comment on the witness because of the pending investigation. However, the witness was more willing to talk once the enhanced video proved the shooter was still at large, Cervantes said.
In his line of work, Cervantes often encounters the limitations of video surveillance. Despite the enhanced video footage of the transit center shooting, investigators had a difficult time determining who was where. Cervantes said faces of people at the scene were distorted, perhaps an effect of digital storage or the capabilities of the transit center's surveillance equipment.
"Video surveillance has this sort of mystique that it's this ‘eye in the sky’ and that you can see everything," Cervantes said. "More than not, video is inconclusive. The truth to it is, the ‘eye in the sky’ is only as good as that recording device."
Glenn Proctor turned himself in to Federal Way police on Feb. 9, 2008, shortly after he was named a suspect in the shooting death of 38-year-old Darrel Miller. Proctor pleaded not guilty to the charges Feb. 25. Miller was not the intended target of the gunshot, according to Proctor's charging papers. Instead, a male acquaintance whom Proctor had engaged in a fight with in summer 2007 was the intended target, according to the same documents.
New information arose and the investigation is continuing, Federal Way police spokesman Raymond Bunk said.
"He was arrested at the time and at that time we had probable cause for the arrest," Bunk said.
Proctor was held in King County Jail for nearly a year. His trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 20, 2009.