The Best Way to Examine a Scene from the Witness's Viewpoint
by Detective David J. DeLeeuw
When a witness comes forward claiming to have observed an incident occur, I can easily determine whether it’s within the realm of possibility by using one of my favorite features in Leica Cyclone 3D point cloud processing software—witness viewpoint. By placing a camera view anywhere within the scan data, witness viewpoint allows me to quickly generate the eyewitness’s line of sight. This is very powerful because it allows me to debunk or, in the following cases, corroborate a claim that a witness saw something.
Witness View From Inside the Scene
The first case was an officer-involved shooting in which a belligerent male subject had been continuously trying to enter back into a bar and restaurant. After being asked to leave multiple times, the police were called. When the police responded and began speaking with him, he brandished a firearm. After refusing to drop the firearm, he was shot and killed. I was called in to perform a laser scan of the scene.
There was an initial claim that a witness potentially observed the whole incident from a short distance away. There was concern due to vehicles and other obstructions present during the incident. I scanned the scene and area where the witness was standing and then used the witness viewpoint feature in Cyclone to generate the view. Within the software, I was able to place myself into the scene using the approximate height and eye level of the witness. From that view, I was able to confirm it was possible that a witness could have observed the incident that evening. There were no line-of-sight obstructions from where the witness could have been standing.
Because this was an officer involved shooting, the incident was reviewed by our county prosecutor’s office. There was no indictment, and it was determined the officer was justified in using deadly force. I believe the scan data and other evidence presented to the county prosecutor detectives assisted in this determination.
Witness View From Outside the Scene
The second case involved a struck pedestrian within a roadway and driveway area in a residential neighborhood. The victim was standing in the driveway next to a recreational vehicle and then struck multiple times and pinned against the vehicle. The victim succumbed to his injuries shortly thereafter.
Upon responding, there was indication that a witness had observed the incident from a window of a house across the street. The scene and exterior of the witness’s house was scanned with attention given to the window in question. Within three setups, I captured all the data I needed without having to ever enter the witness’s house—or even the witness’s yard.
When I registered all the data together, I was able to place myself in the window by using the witness viewpoint feature and generate a perspective view. Of course, I had to take into consideration how tall the witness was and if there were any obstructions in the window (blinds, curtains, sheers, etc.). Whether obstructions existed inside the house (couch against the window, nightstand, table, etc.), I did not know. What I did know—and what I was able to provide to our detectives and to our county prosecutor’s detectives—was that when I virtually positioned myself in the window, I had a clear, direct line-of-sight of the property across the street where the incident occurred and there were no obstructions.
Anytime I scan, I am capturing the realm of possibilities. When a witness comes forward, Leica Cyclone’s witness viewpoint feature gives me the power to separate the possible from the impossible and build a stronger case.
To learn more about high-definition 3D laser scanning solutions for law enforcement and crime scene investigation, contact the Leica Geosystems PSG team.
About the author: Detective David J. DeLeeuw is a five-year veteran of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office in Toms River, N.J. In 2012, he was assigned to the Crime Scene Investigation Unit to advance the department’s laser scanning program. David worked in the civil engineering and land surveying industry for more than 10 years prior to joining the Sheriff’s Office in 2008. He is certified by Leica Geosystems as a Public Safety Laser Scan Technician and a member of the New Jersey International Association for Identification.