Case Study 1. Combing through 324,000 frames of cellphone video to help prove the innocence of an activist in Rio

Written by Victor Ribeiro

On Oct 15, 2013, a 37-year-old activist named Jair Seixas (aka Baiano) was arrested as a protest supporting striking teachers was winding down in Rio de Janeiro. Seixas had been marching peacefully with eight human rights lawyers when police officers approached and accused him of setting fire to a police vehicle and minibus.

Photo credit: Midia Informal
Photo credit: Midia Informal

As he was being taken away, police refused to tell the lawyers which precinct he was being taken to, or what evidence they had of his alleged crimes.

Seixas was held in prison for 60 days and released. He continues to fight the charges brought against him. When his lawyers began to plan their defense strategy, they looked for videos that might help prove Seixas’ innocence. Their search involved looking on social networks, asking those who were at the event, and obtaining footage from the prosecution and courts.

They found five pieces of footage they felt had evidentiary value to their case. Two videos were official court records of the police officers’ testimonies under oath; two were videos submitted by the prosecution that were confirmed to have been filmed by undercover police officers who had infiltrated protesters; and the final clip was filmed by a media activist who was covering the protest and was present at the time of Seixas’ arrest. This activist used a cellphone to livestream the event, which provided a huge amount of critical first-hand footage of the event.

By putting these videos together, the lawyers found critical evidence of Seixas’ innocence. The filmed testimonies of the officers were full of contradictions and helped prove that the officers didn’t actually see Seixas set fire to the bus, contrary to what they had claimed earlier. The prosecution’s videos captured audio of undercover officers inciting protesters to violence. This helped demonstrate that, in some instances, the violence the protesters were being accused of had originated with undercover officers.

The final clip, filmed by a media activist, was the smoking gun: In a frame-by-frame analysis of roughly three hours of an archived livestream of the protest (324,000 frames!) the defense team uncovered a single frame of video that showed that the police vehicle Seixas was being accused of having set ablaze was the exact same vehicle that drove him away after he was detained. This was proven by comparing the identifying characteristics of the vehicle in the video with the one that Seixas was transported in.

We at WITNESS helped the defense identify and prepare this evidence, both by assembling screenshots of these videos into a storyboard as well as by editing a 10-minute evidentiary submission of video that was delivered to the judge, along with the accompanying documentation.

Though the case is still continuing, the evidence is clear and undeniable. This is an inspiring example of how video from both official and citizen sources can serve justice and protect the innocent from false accusations.

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