Challenge to Border Patrol Shooting Footage Continues

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – The quality and accuracy of video footage depicting the 2012 shooting death of a teenage boy in Mexico by a U.S. Border Patrol agent was repeatedly questioned in Tucson federal court Thursday.

“It’s highly compressed,” expert witness Grant Fredericks, a forensic video analyst, said of the video in testimony for the defense team of Agent Lonnie Swartz at a pretrial hearing.

The agent, whose trial is scheduled for October, faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The teen was in Nogales, Sonora, on the Mexican side of the metal border fence that divides the city from Nogales, Arizona, when he was felled by at least 10 bullets that mostly struck his back.

The Border Patrol didn’t retain the original footage from two of its surveillance cameras along the international boundary. And the agent’s attorneys contend that the remaining video – as well as a video reconstruction – are flawed, and they seek to keep both out of court.

Federal investigators had kept the video secret from the public until Monday, when portions of it were shown in court. But Fredericks said that compression, which reduces the size of media files to speed up transfer and save storage capacity, hurt the quality of the video because it discarded significant amounts of data in the process.

Fredericks’ testimony came three days after Gary Weaver, a field technician for the Border Patrol, testified that the video can, in fact, be relied upon to accurately portray what happened the night of Oct. 10, 2012. He said copies were made directly from digital video recorders and compression removed only redundant data while preserving quality.

Fredericks also characterized the video reconstruction in 3D imagery of the scene that expert witness James Tavernetti produced for federal prosecutors as an inaccurate representation because it’s based on the faulty footage.

Tavernetti’s video reconstruction, displayed in court Monday while he explained it, shows Swartz firing 16 shots, reloading once, from the north side of the high bollard-style fence.

“Mr. Tavernetti relied on these images that are incredibly unreliable,” said Fredericks, who cited as an example movement shown in Tavernetti’s work in places where there was none.

Fredericks’ testimony, which delved deeply into the technical side of the recording and duplication of video footage, lasted more than four hours.

Tavernetti, who took the witness stand briefly on Thursday, stood by the accuracy of his work.

On Friday, June 30, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins will hear closing arguments on the defense’s motion to exclude the video and its reconstruction from the trial.

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