Integrator Facing Jail Time Over 'Missing' Video

By: Carlton Purvis, Published on Jan 08, 2014

A small town security integrator faces a felony charge after failing to turn over surveillance video to the authorities. The case is set to go to trial in March, and the integrator won’t say if he has the footage or not. Here’s what we learned about the case after talking to the integrator, and the manager of the hotel where the images were captured.

The Charge

John Abens, owner of Moses Lake Security, is facing a first-degree criminal assistance charge for refusing to give police video from Sage and Sand Motel in Moses Lake, Washington. Police suspect two armed robbery suspects visited the hotel wearing the same clothes they wore during the crime.

When police initially requested the footage, the hotel manager wasn’t able to provide it because she didn’t know how to operate the system. The owners, who are constantly traveling, gave her permission to contact Abens, the installer, to pull the video. Abens says at the time he didn’t know the video was related to the armed robbery, and he never watched the footage.

What The Footage May Show

The officer handling the case was not available to comment, but the manager of Sage and Sand Motel says police wanted the footage to test a suspect’s alibi.

“To my knowledge they are looking for a gentleman in a hoodie that had been there on a certain date between 11 and 2:30 and bought a Mr. Pibb from our Coke machine. They wanted the footage of this man doing that,” she said. Police say one of the suspects frequented the motel’s lobby to use the machine, according to the local newspaper.

Phone Tag

Abens came to the motel a few days after the manager contacted him, picked up the DVR and returned it later that night. He told the motel he made two copies, one to archive and one to provide to police. He left the detectives a message saying the DVD was ready on Nov. 19 and began making plans to travel to Seattle for heart surgery.

“I’ve been basically dying from heart disease,” he said when we spoke to him by phone. “If I work for one hour, I have to rest two days in bed. I was on 12 medications trying to keep my heart going and now that I had the surgery I need to rest for a year to get my strength back.”

The local paper says detectives tried to contact him several times to pick up the DVD, but never got a hold of him. By the time they connected, he was on his way out of town and wouldn’t be back until December fourth, after the surgery.

Refusing to Provide the DVD

After he returned from surgery, reports say Abens refused to give police the footage. Abens, however says he wasn’t stalling, but there were problems exporting the video and he was trying to recover from his surgery.

“For some reason the support files didn’t copy over so the video wouldn’t play. I had to find the files and put them in the folder, but I didn’t have a chance to make a working disc,” he said. Eventually, he says detectives requests became more angry, and he refused to cooperate after friends told him he should focus on his health.

“I’ve been providing footage to them for six years, probably a thousand dollars worth of work, and I did it for free. I’ve helped them catch a lot of criminals. I don’t know why they got so mad. I was very sick. I’d just gotten out of surgery two days before,” he said.

That’s when police served a warrant to try and find the DVD. They were unsuccessful. Abens said the DVD was broken in the trunk of his car.

Is the Footage Really Gone Forever?

Abens won’t say if he has another copy DVD copy or if the footage his still available on the DVR.

“I can’t comment on that right now because that pertains to what my attorney is trying to do,” he said.

It's likely it doesn’t exist on the DVR anymore because the motel says the system overwrites footage every 17 days. Abens says the police could have seized the DVR themselves during the time he wasn’t available.

The manager of Sage and Sand Motel says she had no idea there was an issue between the police and Abens until she read about his arrest in the newspaper.

Analysis

The case must really hinge on that video footage if prosecutors are willing to go after an integrator who just had heart surgery with a felony charge to make a point.

Comments (16)

I think its sad that the Police think they have that much power.

I'm confused as to what "federal" charge local police would use or even have the authority to use. I suspect the police would also consult with the prosecutor for the issuance of a warrant before effecting any arrest for state criminal statutes or local ordinance. We simply need more information before making any reasonable assessment of this issue. I also sense some remorse on the part of the integrator for not having charged for his services in the past when retrieving video related to criminal activity. Too bad it isn't the NSA asking for the surveillance footage. I understand they have deeper pockets than local PD's.

The prosecutor's officer charged him with first degree criminal assistance for withholding evidence, which is a felony.

If I had a nickel for every time that a dvr failed to export video to a disc back in the day I would be a rich man. Give them the corrupt disk and let them figure it out.

I do feel sorry for the integrator here. Is there something else going on that they are targetting that person. In any case I am at a loss as to why the hotel buys a surevillance system and does not know how to operate it. Why should they have to bring in the installer to do this and why couldn't the police just issue a warrant to get the DVR and have their experts pull out the video.

Sorry to say this, and maybe the police response is a little extreme, but I can see their frustration. They have a crime and a job to do, he has the evidence, and they are having trouble getting it. What was so hard about sending the disks after they were made? If he was having health problems, he should have just given them what he had- it sounds like he had the proprietray video file exported but had trouble with the player files. The police could have gotten someone else to help with the player files. A DVD broken in his trunk? Not very good care.

Of cource we don't know the eaxct details, but this reminds me so much of my computer days where some lone, obsessive tech would hold onto a customer piece of equipment for weeks and sometimes months, or wouldn't give the passwords to a system that needed maintenace so someone else could work on it because he had to be one to fix it.

Caveat emptor, folks. This sounds like a one guy & a truck company and you do get what you pay for. Regardless of his objections or claims to vicitim of circumstance standing, you don't obstruct an investigation. From the action taken by the officers there is history here of some nature, either not returning calls to contact him or past struggles to get the installer's cooperation that left lasting distaste but, whatever the circumstance, hand over the video and quit crying would seem a sound strategy :-)

The sensible thing for the integrator to do could have been to leave a copy of the DVD with the motel employee when he returned the DVR and leave a message with the local PD to let them know since he knew they needed the footage and that he would be hard to reach while out of town for his operation. Even better would have been to FedEx it requesting a signature on delivery. It obviously would have been a lot cheaper than having to pay his lawyer's fees after the fact.

In his defence, he was probably more concerned with his health at the time and may not have been giving all of his attention to thinking through the situation.

Related to this, I am curious what role hosted video providers have in providing video to the police. For instance, let's say a crime is committed on a site that uses Axis hosted video (sure, it's unlikely but pretend). Could the police subpoena the provider? They 'have' the data.

If they couldn't get at it using simpler means and it was important enough, I'm sure they could convince a judge.

This may be garbled, I got sloppy and hit "refresh" midsentence. A duces tecum subpoena (a.k.a. duces Take 'Em) would require the hosted video hosting provider to appear and produce the video records, documents or other items. The provider can always contest the subpoena but why would they?

I agree. If the provider has evidence, and there's not other means of getting it, I'm sure they can get a warrant for it.

I'm also sure they'll charge their client for the trouble, too, on the basis it should have been the client retrieving the video, not the hosting provider.

This is why as an Integrator you should never pull footage for customers. I tell my Customers I will help them in anyway possible with instructions and training but I will not be involved in pulling footage for a criminal investigation. If the integrator had refused the pull the footage in the first place he wouldn't be in this mess.

Duncan, lots of times, the integrator is sitting next to the customer as they review and choose video for export. This helps the user who does not have as much experience in operating the machine yet ensures the user gets what they want. Do you see a risk in that?

I do that quite a bit for customers. There is probably a greater risk than doing nothing but as long as your not the actual person burning the video and handling the video you are removing yourself from the chain of custody for that evidence.

I get blank disks all the time!

I get damaged disks all the time!

I get corrupted USB Flash media... all the time!

I get a .abc file with no player and no details of manufacturer..........all the time!

If its REALLY important, then I will get in my vehicle and go to the store and attempt to get it myself. If its overwritten by that time then we all did our best and I instruct the owner either how to do it properly, or how to avoid other issues.

There are times when there is evidence of tampering and an obvious effort by someone to destroy evidence, but they are few and far between - fortunatly!

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