Forensic image enhancement reveals blood-red stains

Blog, Digital Media Evidence, LBPD

In Dana’s case, Long Beach homicide detectives overlooked dark stains on the concrete floor of the master bathroom. These stains were made by Dana’s blood pulsing from her fatal head wound as she tried to escape from the bathroom, and as her husband dragged her into the shower, I believe. Huck tried to wash her blood away, but the concrete floor absorbed it, making it impossible for him to scrub the floor clean in the limited time he had. He tried to conceal the blood with decorative stain, I believe. (More here.)

When I studied the police photos of the bathroom, I saw reddish stains covered with a brownish wash. Other investigators dismissed my perceptions as biased and wrong. I wondered: Is there a way to objectively confirm my subjective impression that the dark stains look bloody red? Is there a way to separate the two different stain colors — brownish and reddish — to make blood in the police photos more obvious? The answer is: Yes, kind of.

I learned this forensic imaging technique a couple of years ago in a class taught by George Reis, an established expert in digital media forensics. It’s a relatively simple Channel Mixer adjustment applied in Adobe Photoshop CC 2018. This tool allows me to split the RGB (red, green, blue) in the images into three separate channels. Next, I can “turn up the volume” on the red channel, while “turning down the volume” on green and blue. This technique does not add red to the picture; rather, it emphasizes the red that’s already there. (Adobe explains.)

In his class notes, George Reis explained: “The Channel Mixer allows us to control the amount of data each separate color channel contributes to the image. With this control, if we need to de-emphasize a purple object, or isolate an orange object, we can get very precise control, which wasnʼt possible by splitting channels…. This tool has tremendous power for color isolation.”

To demonstrate, I applied Channel Mixer adjustments to police photo img_126. You can download the photo in full resolution here and try this yourself in Photoshop. Make sure that the image mode is RGB, 16 bit. In the gallery below, you can see a variety of “mixes” and settings that reveal the bloody redness of the stains. I also tried adding a levels adjustment to further reveal the red. Give it a try. (You can download additional police photos here.)

The stains are certainly red, but are they blood? Maybe a blood-stain-pattern expert might be able to draw conclusions. As far as I know, there’s no way to definitively confirm that a photograph depicts actual blood. Owing to the blunders and forensic malpractice of the Long Beach Police Department, the bathroom was not tested chemically for the presence of blood. But the LBPD did take photos, and that’s worth something, if only to me.

(George Reis is scheduled to teach a four-day workshop on Adobe Photoshop for Forensic Video Analysts in Huntington Beach in February 2019.)

Case of the demoted detective?

Blog, LBPD
LBPD Det. Todd Johnson with Arkansas Razorbacks punter Blake Johnson

LBPD’s Todd Johnson with Arkansas Razorbacks punter Blake Johnson.

A story making the rounds in Long Beach: Todd Johnson, the lead homicide detective on my sister’s case, has been removed from the LBPD homicide detail due to a recent instance of misconduct — something involving an attorney representing Johnson’s son. If true, this adds credence to what I’ve been saying for years: Todd Johnson is a corrupt cop (who helped my sister’s husband get away with murder.)

I spent two days last week playing e-mail ping-pong with a LBPD spokesperson, seeking comment on Johnson’s removal from the homicide detail. The LBPD refused to comment, but admitted that Johnson is no longer assigned to a homicide investigation that he was working on earlier this year. Johnson is still assigned to the Investigations Bureau, according to a department spokesperson. (Click on the name of the LBPD spokesperson to open a pdf of the email thread: Arantxa Chavarria and Nancy Pratt.)

Mugshot from 2015 public intoxication arrest. (click here for source)

I asked whether Johnson is currently assigned to investigate domestic violence cases. This is part of the story I’ve heard, but the LBPD would neither confirm nor deny it.

I’m astonished that Johnson continues to be employed by the LBPD in any role, considering that a judge (in yet another case) called his behavior “appalling and unethical and inappropriate.” Suddenly, it appears that the LBPD and the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office have acknowledged that Johnson is too dirty to serve as a homicide detective in Long Beach. Even so, it’s disturbing that Johnson’s supervisors seem to think he’s fit to handle domestic violence cases.

Detective Johnson with punter Blake Johnson.

Detective Johnson with punter Blake Johnson.

My sister’s case involved extreme domestic violence — a woman murdered in her own home by her husband. Signs of tension and conflict can be seen in surveillance video taken inside their home. Johnson saw it and wrongly concluded that the video showed no issues.

One of my sister’s neighbors told the police she worried that my sister had been a victim of domestic violence. A police officer included this red flag in her report:

“She asked me if Dana was ok. She had seen the police cars and was worried there could have been domestic violence. She said [Dana’s husband] is, “Armed.” She clarified and said she knows [he] has guns in his house because he has told her he has them. He told her he has cameras on his home so if it is ever burglarized there will be evidence he acted in self defense. She kept asking me, “Is she ok?”

Click here to open a pdf of this police report. The statement appears on page five at the bottom of the page. Johnson read it, and ignored it.

I told the police that my sister’s husband was abusive, but Johnson dismissed my statements, too. Johnson’s erroneous conclusions, smug dismissiveness, and face-saving coverups helped my sister’s husband get away with murder.

To me, Johnson’s reassignment to domestic violence cases shows profound contempt for the people of Long Beach. It shows that the LBPD protects their rotten apples at the public’s expense. Read more about how Todd Johnson botched the investigation of my sister’s homicide here.

Arkansas Razorbacks punter Blake Johnson gestures with his middle finger in a game vs. Missouri Tigers.

What can we learn about this case from watching people fall?

Blog, LBPD

The Long Beach Police knowingly ignored the many contradictions and inconsistencies in Huck’s murder alibi. For one thing, the detectives did not question Huck’s claim that Dana had fallen, hit her head, and died while doing yoga.

YouTube is loaded with videos of people falling and hitting their heads. A quick search locates dozens of videos of skateboarders taking terrible falls and hitting their heads hard on bare concrete. The videos are upsetting to watch, but they’re instructive. Compared to videos of people actually falling and reacting to a fall, Huck’s statement to the police (pdf) about Dana’s “fall” is obviously implausible.

Most detectives are habitually skeptical about the stories they hear in a homicide investigation, but the Long Beach Police Department swallowed Huck’s story whole. Why? It’s one of the lingering questions in Dana’s case.

LBPD’s TigerTexty policing: when evidence vanishes, so does crime

Blog, LBPD

You’ve heard of “broken windows” policing? It’s based on the theory that “visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.”

In Long Beach, the city operates on a different theory called TigerTexty policing. The idea is simple: the police delete evidence of wrongdoing, cover-up misconduct in their ranks, and scream cry at critics. And everything works out just fine.

Here’s an example: Long Beach Police officers allowed local bar owners to break into and hijack a bar belonging to a rival. According to the owner of the hijacked bar, a LBPD sergeant told him that “the burglary and theft of his inventory was a civil matter and refused to take a crime report.” LBPD Internal Affairs backed up the sergeant and dismissed the bar owner’s complaints as unfounded.

Stephen Downing — a frequent target of scream-crying defenders of the LBPD — explains it all in a two-part article in The Beachcomberpart one | part two.

TigerTexty policing gets its name from a messaging app that was used by 145 LBPD officers, including command staff, on department-issued phones starting in 2014. The app automatically, permanently deleted text messages after five days. This went on until September 2018 when Al-Jazeera broke the story. The L.A. Times followed up.

LBPD Chief Robert Luna helpfully explained that the text messages — exchanged by public officials while conducting official business — were just like “handwritten notes” that are routinely thrown away. It sounds as if prior to TigerText, LBPD internal communications involved passing notes to one another in the hallways.

Chief Luna suspended his department’s use of the app while investigations are underway. The L.A. District Attorney’s Office is said to be looking into it. In addition, the City of Long Beach and the LBPD are “independently” reviewing the matter.

As Downing pointed out in The Beachcomber, this is a perfect example of TigerTexty policing: call it an “independent investigation” but be sure that the people conducting it are beholden to the people being investigated…because misconduct completely disappears when public officials are allowed to police themselves.

According to Downing, LBPD commanders met to reassure one another that all evidence exchanged via TigerText had been safely, permanently deleted. See how well it works?

There are a lot of good and great police officers in the department, certainly. My problem, perhaps, is that the brilliance of the command staff is too dazzling for my mortal eyes to see. The LBPD is so special that it has its own TigerTexty way of investigating officer-involved shootings. published the original investigative report entitled, ‘It can easily be perceived as a cover-up:’ Long Beach’s ‘odd’ way of handling police shootings. The gist: “Long Beach is the only city in Los Angeles County whose police department almost never interviews its officers after they’ve shot someone.”

Nah. Why would they? That would entail making a candid record. If there’s no record, there’s no evidence. If there’s no evidence, there’s no crime. Truly revolutionary.

Anger and disgust: emotion recognition demo

Blog, Digital Media Evidence

The police investigation into Dana’s death relied heavily on the assumptions and subjective judgments of the detectives in the case. They looked at surveillance videos and saw nothing that raised red flags for them. They assumed that all was well and, therefore, that no murder had occurred. When I voiced my subjective judgments — pointing out that there was a conflict between Dana and Huck on the night before Dana was found fatally injured — investigators dismissed my observations as biased.

Emotion recognition software probably wasn’t as widely available then as it is today. One app called Face++ scans photos for faces, reads cues in facial expressions, and — based on data — analyzes the emotions expressed in the faces. Granted, algorithms are not immune to bias. But when applied to images of Dana and Huck, perhaps the software is less biased than the LBPD or me.

According to Face++, Dana was angry that night. Huck’s facial expression revealed strong indicators of disgust when he looked at Dana. As I told investigators, all was not well, and Face++ seems to back me up. Here’s a short video in which I use Face++ to analyze images from that night: