IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Dallas Police Audited 113 Homicide Cases After Digital Loss

The department lost hundreds of digital evidence records early in the year and gave a progress update this week.

Dallas police and the district attorney’s office said Tuesday they found no proof deleted video evidence negatively impacted more than 100 homicide cases reviewed in a monthslong audit. But they did not provide any details about how they reached that conclusion or identify the affected cases.

It was the first time in months that the agencies provided new information about the police department’s widespread evidence storage issues, which The Dallas Morning News revealed earlier this year.

In March, Dallas police Executive Assistant Chief Albert Martinez said the department opened an audit into every pending murder and capital murder case, dating back to 2016, to trace whether video evidence was deleted. He said about 450 homicide cases were under review. Some key numbers:
  • Audits date back to 2016 cases.
  • There have been 113 audits out of 450 impacted cases.
  • Within those audits, there were 8,889 case-related files, of which 572 video files were deleted.

Statements emphasized that officials don’t believe any deleted video footage “proved to be material” to any case.

Defense attorney Rebekah Perlstein, who represented a defendant whose case had missing evidence, said Tuesday there were numerous issues with officials’ statements, and it’s unclear how officials can make a determination that files weren’t material if they don’t exist.

“If something is deleted, lost, gone forever, you can’t tell me what its characteristics are,” said Perlstein, a former prosecutor.

Brandon Friedman, a member of Dallas’ Community Police Oversight Board, said even after officials’ statements, it’s still unclear how the lost records will impact pending criminal cases.

In addition to the review of murder and capital murder cases, police officials previously said they plan to assess all violent crimes going back to 2016. Dallas police usually record more than 10,000 violent crimes annually. Based on Tuesday’s statements, it appears those reviews will not automatically take place.

The DA’s office said in its statement that they have established a protocol for defense attorneys who want to request to have their cases reviewed for missing or deleted evidence. Otherwise, the case would most likely not be reviewed.

Protocols have been set forth, according to the DA’s office. Police officers are required by department policy to tag and categorize video footage at the end of each shift to ensure information that could be needed for cases isn’t deleted.

Before The News brought the storage issues to light in February, a category that many officers selected, “calls for service,” only retained files for 90 days. Files labeled “calls for service” were automatically deleted after that period, so if an officer chose the wrong category and a detective did not save it in time, it was erased.

Other categories had a longer retention period — “investigative evidence,” for instance, retained files for two years. After The News’ story earlier this year, Dallas police changed settings in their data storage platform to keep all files for at least two years, instead of the previous minimum of 90 days.

The department also implemented “compliance” positions to more regularly audit officers and ensure police are following internal policies, in addition to weekly review reports distributed to supervisors and commanders and video logging training for officers.

Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, commended the department for modernizing storage protocols.

“When alerted to the situation, (the Dallas Police Department) made changes to operating procedures to ensure video evidence is tagged and retained appropriately,” she said Tuesday.

The department touted the changes as effective and allowing for “greater confidence” in its management and submission of video files in criminal cases. A recent analysis of more than 400 criminal cases requested by the DA’s office showed a nearly 100 percent compliance of evidence submission since the fall of 2021, according to police.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.