Can search dogs be trusted?

Discussion in 'Netflix Series: Making A Murderer' started by proudfootz, Feb 19, 2017.

  1. proudfootz

    proudfootz Active Member

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    In an already existing thread I posted an article about a search dog handler who was caught red handed planting bones and carpet fibers on a site being searched by law enforcement.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4508072/n...g-expert-guilty-faking-evidence/#.WKmBpX81yxk

    This article came to my attention this morning:

    ZAPATA JURY WON'T HEAR OF DOGS' SEARCH FOR REMAINS

    ED TRELEVEN

    Sep 1, 2007

    The jury hearing the 1976 murder trial of Eugene Zapata next week won't hear anything about cadaver-sniffing dogs, a Dane County judge ruled Friday.
    The specially trained dogs, which were said to have caught whiffs of human remains in several places linked to Eugene Zapata, are no more reliable than "the flip of a coin," Circuit Judge Patrick Fiedler said in excluding testimony about the dogs during Zapata's month-long trial, which is scheduled to start on Tuesday.
    ...

    Testimony that the dogs indicated they smelled human remains at several of the sites, without evidence that any remains were actually found, would be too prejudicial to be heard by the jury, Fiedler said.

    Assistant District Attorney Robert Kaiser said the state will not immediately appeal the decision.

    Fiedler agreed with an analysis of the dogs' records by defense attorney Stephen Hurley that concluded that the dogs were incorrect 78 percent of the time for one dog, 71 percent for another and 62 percent for a third. He said they had to be right just over half of the time in order for him to consider allowing the testimony.

    "The state has failed to convince me that it's any more reliable than the flip of a coin," Fiedler said.

    http://host.madison.com/news/zapata...cle_60fc871a-aa00-507b-a45a-6fed227f52b1.html


    My own opinion? It would seem that something that fails more often than it succeeds is straying a bit far into 'pseudo-science' territory.
     
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  3. Saul Vesalot

    Saul Vesalot New Member

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    I think maybe places where a dog alerts but no remains were actually found should be used the same way polygraphs are, they can point law enforcement in the right direction but have no place in court.
    These dogs sound poorly trained, or poorly handled. Dogs react to their handlers as much as they react to their environments. The dog could be

    This is from an article about sketchy drug dog usage.
    So they give them rewards any time they alert to drugs in this instance.

    This was done because a dog barked.

    Worse than flipping coins in some instances.
    my source:
    http://thefreethoughtproject.com/court-case-reveals-police-dogs-signal-drugs/

    I think dogs work, but they are like any other tool, only as good as the person using it. Terrible handymen blame their tools when they use them wrong. I think the question is can we trust the police to properly train and handle dogs? They have a lot of incentive to find things, even when there is nothing to find.
    Clearance rates, war on drugs money, arrest numbers, civil asset forfeiture, etc...
     
  4. proudfootz

    proudfootz Active Member

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    It's easy to overreact when new information becomes available. I'd always trusted reports about dogs being used in tracking, drug- and bomb-sniffing, and cadaver dogs because dogs have a good reputation for having very sensitive noses and being trainable.

    After finding the story about the dog handler who planted evidence my confidence in these stories has taken a serious blow. You're quite correct - it is down to the handler and the training. Neither can be trusted on faith and taken for granted.
     
  5. Saul Vesalot

    Saul Vesalot New Member

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    I once read a thing where people were investigating how police handle drug dogs and they only rewarded the dogs and called them "good boy" or whatever when the dogs alerted and they did it immediately after the dogs alerted. They quickly learned to alert virtually every time whether they smelled something or not. I wish I could find that article. It is terrifying to think people's lives are jeopardized by this.
     
  6. krkrjx

    krkrjx Hello Darkness, my old friend...

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    A well-trained, well-handled dog can be invaluable to an investigation. People often assume all animals used in investigations are well-trained and well-handled, and therein lies the problem.
     
  7. proudfootz

    proudfootz Active Member

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    I think the judge in the case cited in the OP did the right thing in disallowing testimony about the dogs indicating in places where there were no human remains. Unless there is a scientific way to distinguish false positives from real hits it could create in the minds of jurors a perception of guilt that is unwarranted.

    This brings to mind the cadaver dog's hits on the golf cart. Since the theory the police settled on did not involve the cart, the indication was simply ignored as meaningless. But had the police decided the cart was a part of their scenario, the hits would suddenly become 'evidence'.
     
  8. Saul Vesalot

    Saul Vesalot New Member

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    Yep. Just threw away all the evidence that didn't conveniently fit into the garbage they made up.
     
  9. Karinna

    Karinna Active Member

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    I would think if S&R dogs weren't a valuable tool in investigative procedures why use them at all if they are unreliable?
     
  10. Karinna

    Karinna Active Member

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  11. proudfootz

    proudfootz Active Member

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    That's exactly the question raised by the information revealed in the case cited in the OP.

    It would appear their usefulness depends a great deal on their training and handling.

    If using the dogs is no better than flipping a coin as far as accuracy goes, might be better just to make sure cops have coins to flip when deciding whether a victim or a suspect was at a given location at some point.

    In this case it would appear the dogs used didn't hit on where human remains were eventually found.

    All MOO
     
  12. Karinna

    Karinna Active Member

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    I have had this conversation a few times on various blogs about dog evidence in criminal cases, but always thought they were fairly reliable from various discussions about the subject.
    I think the general consensus was that search & rescue dogs weren't as reliable as the specifically blood & cadaver detecting dogs. I don't think all criminal trials always permit dog evidence in as being admissable either? Probably depends on the state and the judge overseeing the case?
     
  13. Karinna

    Karinna Active Member

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    Putting Dog-Scent Evidence in Perspective

    Dog-scent evidence is tricky because the pooch obviously can’t testify. Aguilar’s lawyer couldn’t have asked Reilly about previous mistakes or ever mixing up smells. So, attorneys like Aguilar’s have to rely on experts to explain the procedures and reliability of dog-scent identifications. And it’s that reliability (both in general, and when it comes to a given dog), or lack thereof, that causes judges to frequently reject dog-scent evidence.

    While dog-scent information can be used at trial, police and prosecutors need to follow proper procedures. If there are any doubts about the dog’s consistency or ability, then that information has to be turned over to the defense. Otherwise, law enforcement risks a mistrial or overturned conviction.
    http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dog-scent-identifications.html
     
  14. wasnt_me

    wasnt_me New Member

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    The only question I have bout the dogs used in SA and DB's case is can they tell the difference between animal and human?

    I thought I read on a blog that CA would hunt with the golf cart and their might have been animalblood in the garage.
     
  15. Jennifer17

    Jennifer17 On Time Out

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    Dogs are reliable, but their trainers may not be. A well trained dog with ignore food to get to the source that it has been trained for.
     
  16. Saul Vesalot

    Saul Vesalot New Member

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    The dog used in the search was 10 year old Belgian Malinois named Brutus and was trained on human remains. He had been certified and been used for detecting human remains for approximately 8 years at the time of the Halbach case. Certification is redone annually, so it had been certified 7 or 8 times. He had been used about 150 times before the search of the Avery property and had successfully found something 70-80 times. The other times there may just not have been anything to find. Brutus had never been known to issue a false positive. One time Brutus issued a false false positive, he alerted to an area, two days were spent looking and nothing was found. The body of the person they were looking for was found there later by accident.

    Brutus trained and handled by an independent party, not part of the police department. Brutus was trained on actual human remains, as opposed to pig remains which used to be common (and was called irresponsible during the Avery trial) and as opposed to simulated human cadaver ("pseudo corpse") which is a lab made concoction that is meant to be identical to human decomposition fluids. However, in practice, they were apparently missing some aspect as it still wasn't as good as real human remains. So Brutus would have been able to distinguish human from animal blood and ignore the animal blood.

    He was also able to distinguish "live" human remains from "dead" human remains. The example given in court is sloughed off skin cells. Those would be considered "live" for about 72 hours, then a tracker dog would have trouble following them. So Brutus would be able to distinguish and ignore even that type of scent.


    I think that Brutus can be trusted as much as any cadaver dog can be. But that means that all of his alerts have to be explained by the prosecution. Any left unexplained would clearly point to an inaccurate/incomplete story of how the crime occurred.

    Interestingly enough, Brutus was never brought into the garage. Bear was there and Cramer did not want to bring Brutus close enough for there to be any tension and the weather was getting bad so they decided to end the dog search. Why Brutus was not brought back after Bear was secured and the luminol spot was found, we will never know. That might have really cleared up a thing or two.

    My source:
    http://www.stevenaverycase.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Jury-Trial-Transcript-Day-5-2007Feb16.pdf

    Julie Cramer was Brutus the cadaver dog's handler. Her testimony begins at the very beginning of the document and goes on for over 60 pages.


    TLDR:
    Brutus could have been able to distinguish between animal and human blood. He just wasn't asked to.
     
  17. wasnt_me

    wasnt_me New Member

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    Yeah, that's a bunch of crap because Brutus could have gone inside the garage. Bear wasn't in there. And also, Bear looked like a lover, not a fighter, but hey...that's just my opinion. And somebody does indeed need to explain those hits around that Salvage yard and that cul da sac.
     
  18. Saul Vesalot

    Saul Vesalot New Member

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    Just to be clear, Julie wanted to remain out of the way of Bear and if the police would have dealt with him she should have had no problem going on. Brutus' search was more or less officially ended when someone from Manitowoc PD suggested that the weather was really bad and everyone should pack it in for the night. I get the feeling that it was the police's idea that the search was over.

    From page 58
    Julie described Brutus as being "durable" and didn't care whether it was raining or snowing. Bad weather just meant he needed to get closer to human remains to smell them. So really Bear kept them distant-ish from the garage but the police were the ones who put an end to Brutus sniffing around.

    And it does make sense that Julie remained distant, at least to some extent. Bear was barking, according to Cramer's court testimony and she said she stayed far enough away to be unable to tell if it was aggressive barking or something else.
    From page 34 of Cramer's testimony

    That strikes me as pretty good reason to keep a good distance from Bear. If your dog barks if he gets barked at, and also barks when human remains are found, then I expect keeping him from barking at other dogs is really high priority. You'll never be able to satisfy everyone/anyone as to what was causing the barks.

    It is also worth pointing out that Bear kept Cramer and Brutus away from the burn pit (pge 25-26). It is amazing how many times Bear interferes with the search before the police decide to have him moved. Imagine if Brutus was allowed into the pit and the garage. Julie states that sometimes she is able to determine whether or not she can handle a strange dog. The search ended before she had any meaningful contact with Bear so she was unable to determine if she could handle him or not. She had been training dogs since at least 1989 (16 years at the time of the investigation)...so odds are she could possibly have taken control of Bear and then moved onto searching those spots.

    Interesting thing is...the burn pit and the garage were basically the only 2 points of interest Brutus was prevented from sniffing. He even sniffed and alerted on the burn barrels and the RAV 4. It is like the garage was left until last, and then struck off because the police don't like getting wet. The police were definitely guiding the sniffing portion of the investigation. Cramer says they investigated whatever the police asked her to search (page 56).

    So...I still see Brutus and Cramer as being perfectly legit while the Manitowoc police were the shady ones here. I feel Cramer and Brutus would have stuck around at least a little while longer if the police had asked. But instead, the search ended, at police behest, right when the dog got to the alleged crime scene.


    Cramer's testimony again, since I used it so much in this post and it isn't on this page yet.
    http://www.stevenaverycase.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Jury-Trial-Transcript-Day-5-2007Feb16.pdf
     
  19. wasnt_me

    wasnt_me New Member

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    Thanks for all the info. I can agree with that, but I also believe Julie isn't the only one who could have handled Bear. She might have been able to, given the chance, as you said. But also, wasn't Bobby at the perimeter, tryingto get his puppy? And wasn't Earl on the property at the time?

    I agree with the weirdness of keeping the search animals away from "key evidence" sites and it's weird not to bring them back later. I also do not agree with them not bringing in the coroner or a bone recovery specialist, or not appropriate documenting of their collection of the bones.

    I know it's been 12 years, but I wonder if a dog could still pick up a scent in the burn pit. I highly doubt it was every used again after November 5, 2005, and it even looks as if it's overgrown with grass now. at least on google maps.

    I recall testimony of a dog, who looked for that teenaged girl who got killed while walking her dog on a trial. She got to the trail on foot, and that dog was able not only to follow her path, but walk with it all the way to her back door, and he also found some of her discarded property some distance from the crime scene. That was impresive.

    I looked it up to verify. Victim was April Millsap.

    Here's the sheriff's testimony of his tracking/trailing bloodhound, Buster. He also had German Shepard Harley, trained on drugs and tracking. Harley was only good for hot trails within 30 minutes of left trail. Buster used April's shoe. They put a trailing harness on him with a 30 foot lead and sent him to pick up an air scent. Buster led him to April's house. They put Buster on free roam to let him do whatever he wanted to do, and he tracked back to the bike trail. The next day, he put Harley and Buster on finding items. It's very interesting testimony if for anyone curious about tracking.

    https://youtu.be/U-uHpurFPTY?t=16m1s
     

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