Divers and Evidence Part 3: OJ Simpson and Public Safety Divers – A Lesson

*If you’re just joining us, this post is part of an ongoing series that examines the issues around public safety divers and evidence dives. To get the most out of this post, I highly recommend you first read the intro post right here , part 1 here and part 2 right here.

The date was June 12th, 1994…

…And in the cool air of a Los Angeles night, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald “Ron” Goldman both drew their last breaths. 

Just after midnight, Nicole Brown’s body would be spotted from the street by a passerby, and the police would be called.

Over the next few hours, an astonishing number of errors and blunders would turn what should have been an open and shut double-murder case…

Into the most sensational “not-guilty” verdict ever rendered.

Here are just a few…

  • More than a dozen officers and detectives entered and moved around the murder scene, without protective coverings on their shoes… leaving behind more bloody shoe prints than the killer did.
     
  • One officer made a phone call from Nicole Brown’s kitchen phone… and then dusted the phone for fingerprints.
     
  • A bloody fingerprint was documented in Detective Fuhrman’s notes… but the print was never photographed or lifted before the scene was eventually cleaned.
     
  • Dozens of photographs were taken of key pieces of evidence… all without any scales to demonstrate size or any reference to where the items of evidence were found at the scene.
     
  • Reports and documents drafted at the scene were done in pencil with clear erasure marks… which means the documents could have been altered at any time after they were created.
     
  • Blood was drawn from OJ Simpson for DNA comparison… but the amount was never documented and the vial was carried around for several hours before being entered into evidence.
     
  • Several pieces of bloody evidence were packaged in the same bag… leading to heavy cross-contamination.
     

Sadly, that list is nowhere near complete…

Thankfully we’ve come a long way in the last 25 years when it comes to evidence collection… 

Can you imagine a dozen trained officers leaving their own shoeprints at the crime scene?

That’s almost too much to believe.

Then again…

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you’ve seen over a dozen people walking around a dive site that is a potential crime scene… Most of them not even necessary for the dive operation.

They walk to the water’s edge, look around, walk up the shoreline, down the shoreline, all through the bushes nearby… 

Leaving footprints everywhere they go.

More often than not, all these gawkers will eventually get bored and they’ll leave.

With enough of them circulating through the scene, no one will remember who was there or why.

Maybe we haven’t come as far as we’d hoped…

But we can always be better.

Ready to bust another myth?

“All we gotta do is get in there, find the evidence, bring it up and hand it over. Done.”

I can feel you shaking your head… Mediocre Diver strikes again.

If you’ve ever seen a crime scene being investigated in real life, or even on the news, you know what it looks like.

Trained people carefully moving throughout the scene, documenting everything with those giant camera flashes.

Measurements, photographs, residue, fingerprints, blood splatter, fibers…

You name it and they’re trying to collect, measure, and bring it all to court.

If the murder weapon was found lying on the sidewalk at that scene, it would be carefully documented in place, packaged, and transported somewhere else for further analysis.

So…………….

What if the killer threw the gun in a nearby pond? 

If the court requires all that effort to go into evidence collection on land

Why would we assume we can just saunter to the bottom, pluck up the gun, probably rub our dry gloves all over it, before dragging it to the surface and just handing it to someone? 

That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense now, does it?

Truth is, evidence collected underwater should be documented in the same manner as it is on land.

And that is what can set divers apart from everyone else…

When a criminal investigation reaches the water’s edge, the entire course of that investigation falls into the diver’s hands. No one else.

Think about it, the most talented and well-trained evidence technicians in the world can be arranged on shore, with evidence mere feet away under 4’ of water…

They can see it but they can’t reach it.

Despite their training and experience, it all comes down to the diver who can break the surface of that water and take the investigation to the evidence. 

This is where Mediocre Diver gets left behind… Because Mediocre Diver can’t work at this level.

Mediocre Diver looks foolish at this level.

Mediocre Diver starts to hang back in the shadows…

Trying not to draw attention.

But Prepared Diver…

Prepared Diver is well-trained in this process because Prepared Diver takes their job seriously

Prepared Diver is in the water with their evidence collection materials, their camera, and their markers.

Prepared Diver documents the position and orientation of the evidence while calmly setting their marker float. 

Then, they ascend to the surface, unhurried…

…and calmly help coordinate the marker float for Prepared Shore Personnel to measure the location of the object, triangulate it’s distance and coordinates, and document it all on prepared scene sketches.

Then, when all is documented properly and correctly, Prepared Diver gently descends to the bottom, carefully collects the evidence according to best practices, and places it in the correct evidence collection package. 

Then, and only then, will Prepared Diver exit the water with their secured evidence collection container…

And hand the container directly to a detective or investigator after they sign the Chain of Custody form.

Once the scene is broken down, Prepared Diver returns to their quarters and compiles their observations, documents, videos, etc. into a well-developed evidence collection package for the prosecutor to use in court.

Textbook.

Think that sounds like a bunch of law enforcement personnel doing their jobs? 

Well, it’s not.

What I just described to you happened in real life not a month ago…

And the entire procedure was planned and executed by a bunch of well trained volunteer firefighters and public safety divers.

Training is the difference. Determination is the key. 

Desire to be better today than you were yesterday lights the way.

It’s a choice.

There’s a Prepared Diver in all of us just struggling to break out and lead.

And I know you’re ready to let it loose…

Learning is a path sometimes forged by truly screwing it up… like we did.

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