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| Crime |

McKinney PD Accused of Destroying Damning Video, But Maybe Their Dash Cams Just Suck

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Squad Car Footage from Amy Silverstein on Vimeo.

The allegations against the former McKinney Police Department officer are serious: He was driving too fast, with no siren lights on and making a dangerous lane change before crashing into the car of a man who is now suing him. But there's no footage of any of that. The video from the squad car that allegedly caused the crash is gone. All that remains is this brief clip that doesn't actually capture the accident, or anything interesting at all.

The man's lawsuit alleges there's a sinister reason for all of that. Shortly after the crash between Officer Mark Watson and Illinois resident Brock Bailey, officers from Frisco and McKinney were on the scene. One of the cops from McKinney removed the video system from Watson's vehicle, promising to then provide the footage to Frisco to help with the investigation. But all the video they recovered amounted to that sad little clip posted above.

The video, Bailey's suit alleges, "was negligently or intentionally altered by the City of McKinney." Had the other McKinney officers not messed with the video, Bailey's suit claims, it would have proved the crash was all Officer Watson's fault. "The missing dash cam video would have shown that Watson was traveling at least 98 mph when he steered the police cruiser into the side of Brock's vehicle," the suit says.

If true, it certainly does make the McKinney PD's evidence collection policies sound sketchy. But there could be another reason for the mysterious, disappearing footage, which is that the guy formerly in charge of the department's video system thought it was a pain in the ass that broke frequently.

The McKinney City Council agreed to put down money for a new squad car camera system called WatchGuard just over a year ago. Soon afterward, problems became apparent to then-fleet operations manager Aaron Smith.

"Last week we identified two vehicles (units 26515 and 1317) not recording video data to the vehicles DVR," writes Smith in an August 2013 email to Deputy Police Chief Scott Brewer. (The email was provided to Unfair Park by McKinney Watchdog, a local political group focused on exposing municipal government corruption.)

Smith had tried tried working with WatchGuard's tech support team, he details in the email. In typical tech-support fashion, they had him drive to Allen to pick up some new cables. That seemed to fix the problem with those cars, but Smith identified a graver concern: There was no easy way for officers to know if their dash cams were malfunctioning. "The issue is that the camera system in either vehicle did not give any indication that the DVR was not recording," Smith wrote to his deputy chief. "The officers would naturally assume all was well until they tried to review the videos either on the server or on the in car monitor."

Smith later left the department and became a whistle blower, telling WFAA a few months ago about the department's radar guns. Apparently, those don't work, either. "There is a great possibility that you could get an erroneous reading," he told the station. Smith also recently detailed problems with the radar guns and the WatchGuard system to Town Square Buzz, a local news website devoted to all things McKinney.

Defenders of WatchGuard could point out that McKinney PD isn't the only agency that uses the video system -- in fact, the company won a contract back in 2006 to supply the patrol car videos for the Texas Department of Public Safety. On the other hand, the senator who represents McKinney, state Senator Ken Paxton, was an investor in WatchGuard when he helped get that vote passed, as the News recently reported in a story on Paxton's various conflicts of interest.

Smith, the whistle-blower, retired in December 2013. Watson resigned in January, though he claims he did so under pressure and his resignation is now reportedly under investigation.

Bailey's lawsuit against McKinney is below.

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