Fault Lines
24 April 2017

That Day Officer Julian Archuleta Forgot to Turn Off His Body Cam

October 31, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Too often, police body cameras fail to record crucial incidents. Sometimes the officer isn’t wearing a camera. Other times the camera may dislodge or become disconnected. Occasionally, the officer doesn’t bother to turn it on or even purposefully turns it off just prior to confrontations. Sporadically, the officer provides a director’s cut by editing what is saved and stored in departmental computer systems. And sometimes, the officer just forgets he has it running.

Such may be the case for Officer Julian Archuleta of Denver’s Police Department. On October 7, Archuleta responded to a shooting that ultimately ended in a car crash. Following the crash, Archuleta apparently began collecting evidence and documenting the scene. His body camera recorded just over 24 minutes of activity as Archuleta photographed the scene and searched the suspect’s vehicle and clothing. As detectives followed up on the shooting investigation, a detective happened upon Archuleta’s body cam footage and discovered Archuleta’s written report didn’t quite match the video.

According to Archuleta’s arrest warrant affidavit:

Archuleta discovered an unknown amount of cash. One stack of bills had a $100 bill on top.

“Officer Archuleta is observed separating the $100 bill along with some other bills folded inside the $100 bill, from a stack with a $1 bill on top,” the affidavit states. “The [body camera] then moves to view the front of the passenger seat while Officer Archuleta transfers the large bills to his other hand. When the [body camera] pans back to the seat, the stack with the $1 bill is observed but no large bills are present.”

The problem, however, was that Archuleta’s report never mentioned finding $1,200, or even a one hundred dollar bill that was clearly visible on body cam footage. While $118 in cash was logged into the property room, even that sum did not include a $100 bill.

Following an internal investigation, Archuleta was suspended without pay and arrested on suspicion of felony tampering with physical evidence and misdemeanors of first-degree official misconduct and theft. The arrest warrant alleges Archuleta stole $1,200 from the suspect, a sum clearly much larger than the missing $100 bill.

When internal affairs investigators confronted Archuleta about the discrepancy, Archuleta responded he would “check his war bag” and also see if the money perhaps slipped into a crevice in his police car.

Interestingly, the “war bag” is marketed and sold to police as a means of containing and transporting their personal gear and property. Not necessarily a place to store evidence. But I digress.

Oh, the $100 bills slipped out! They may have fallen into his personal bag or perhaps into a crevice in his car. Yeah, that happens all the time. It’s not like he deliberately separated the $100 bills from the remaining cash. It’s not like he recorded just over $1,200 in his report yet only deposited a small amount into evidence.

Investigators confronted Archuleta as he was then able to better check his war bag and quickly report back.

[Archuleta] later told Det. Rogers he found 12 $100 bills and they must have “fallen in his bag.”

What was Archuleta thinking? Had he not learned anything from his brethren around the country? Did he not realize he should turn off his body camera during crucial activities? Did he not know he could have provided a director’s cut?

Perhaps body cameras are finally becoming so common that officers simply forget they are running. Maybe Archuleta was excited surprised to find the large sum of money and simply forgot his camera was rolling as he sat in his patrol car separating and shuffling the bills. Maybe he assumed the video would not capture the actual bills. Maybe he figured no one would really be looking that closely. Whatever the case may be, it certainly does not appear that the bills simply fell into his personal bag by accident. After all, he made no mention of them even existing.

Archuleta’s arrest signals the first time a Denver police body cam has led to criminal charges against an officer. It also resulted in charges being declined against the shooting suspect. Not only had Archuleta allegedly stolen money, but Archuleta also reportedly moved evidence inside the suspect’s car before police were able to obtain a search warrant.

This being the second Denver officer charged this month with criminal conduct, it seems Denver has at least made a crack in the thin blue line. And, maybe the body camera is starting to function as designed: transparency and accountability.

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