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McCollum v. Bahl

May 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Gordon J. Quist


The [investigating officer] advised the incident happened between 8:30-8:45 a.[m].

From the above time chart, the suspect was visible on camera 7 during that time. Unless the times given to me by the [investigating officer] for the card swipe or the frames chosen by the [investigating officer] as in/out [were inaccurate] the suspect did not commit the crime.

In all likelihood, had the jury in the trial of Plaintiff, Claude Zain McCollum ("McCollum"), for the sexual assault and murder of Carolyn Kronenberg heard this statement or testimony from its author, Detective Sergeant James Young, regarding his work on video surveillance tapes and his resulting conclusions about McCollum's innocence, it would not have convicted McCollum because, as it turns out, the information furnished to Detective Young was accurate. In fact, the prosecution's case was built upon that information. For reasons that are in dispute, and even though Detective Young shared his conclusion with the lead investigating officer months prior to the trial, the jury never heard Detective Young's conclusion that McCollum was innocent because McCollum was visible on videotape surveillance in an entirely different building when the murder occurred. Consequently, McCollum was convicted and was incarcerated for almost two years before he was released based, in part, upon the same videotape evidence cited by Detective Young.

The issue before this Court is whether Rodney Bahl, the sole defendant remaining in this case, is entitled to summary judgment on McCollum's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant Bahl's motion with regard to some claims but deny it with regard to others.


For purposes of the instant motion, the facts, where in dispute, are construed in a light most favorable to McCollum, as the non-moving party.

On Sunday, January 23, 2005, at approximately 8:45 a.m., Carolyn Kronenberg, a professor at Lansing Community College ("LCC"), was found brutally murdered and sexually assaulted in the Student Personnel Services ("SPS") Building on LCC's campus in downtown Lansing, Michigan, where she had been preparing to teach a class. The LCC Police Department immediately began an investigation and assigned Defendant Detective Sergeant Bahl as the lead investigator. John Imeson, the Chief of the LCC Police Department, was involved in the investigation to a limited extent, but the day-to-day handling of the investigation fell to Detective Bahl.

Evidence Regarding the Time of the Murder

The evidence obtained early in the investigation established that the murder occurred that morning between 8:30 a.m. and 8:42 a.m. This time frame was based upon several pieces of evidence. First, at 7:33 a.m., Kronenberg called LCC to have the doors to the SPS Building opened so that she could bring some materials in for her class that was to begin at 9:00 a.m. Second, LCC Officer McGraw, as shown by radio logs and Officer McGraw's testimony, began opening the SPS Building around 7:40-7:44 a.m. Third, at about 8:03 a.m., Officer McGraw returned to the Gannon Vocational Building, from where he was previously dispatched, and left again around 8:23 a.m. to pick up a newspaper in front of the SPS Building. While picking up the newspaper, Officer McGraw saw Kronenberg unloading items from the rear of her car in front of the SPS Building. Fourth, Officer McGraw returned to the Gannon Vocational Building around 8:29 a.m. Fifth, at around 8:42 a.m., the first student arrived for Kronenberg's class and found Kronenberg on the floor of the classroom. Finally, Officer McGraw responded to an emergency call and went to Kronenberg's classroom, where he recognized Kronenberg as the woman he saw fifteen minutes earlier. Once the 8:30-8:42 time frame was established, it was never changed during the course of the investigation or the prosecution.

McCollum's "Confession"

The investigation focused on the theory that the person who killed Kronenberg may have walked to the SPS Building from the Technology and Learning Center ("TLC") Building, which was located adjacent to the to the SPS Building. Consequently, officers began looking at students who had been in the TLC Building, and they obtained information on students who had checked into and out of the computer lab in the TLC Building that morning. This information was based upon records of "star card" swipes.*fn2 Bahl and other officers then began interviewing students and others, including McCollum, whose star card swipes showed that they were in the computer lab the morning of the murder. McCollum's star card records showed that he left the TLC computer lab at 7:22 a.m. and reentered at 9:41 a.m. Bahl was familiar with McCollum from prior encounters and knew that he was a homeless student who often loitered around and slept on campus. Bahl also knew that another officer had reported McCollum as having appeared mentally unstable in a prior incident.

On January 25, 2005, Bahl located McCollum and asked him to go to the Gannon Building to be interviewed. McCollum agreed to go with Bahl, and Bahl interrogated McCollum in a room for about 45 minutes. McCollum told Bahl that on January 23 he had been in the computer lab and that at sometime around 7:00 a.m. he left and sat in a chair near the southwest doors of the TLC building. He said that he fell asleep and woke up around 9:30 a.m. McCollum also said that after he left the TLC Building he boarded a city bus, where he overheard a conversation between the bus driver and a passenger about an LCC instructor who had been murdered. McCollum said that he did not commit any crime. Bahl told McCollum that an LCC professor had been raped and murdered, and he suggested how it might have occurred. (McCollum Aff. ¶¶ 6, 7.) McCollum told Bahl that the only way he could have killed the instructor was if he did it while sleep walking.

At the conclusion of his questioning, Bahl transported McCollum to the City of Lansing Police Department for additional questioning. Detective Bruce Lankheet conducted the questioning, and Bahl sat in the room. During the recorded portion of the interview, McCollum told the officers that he was not in the SPS Building on January 23. Detective Lankheet asked McCollum hypothetical questions about how he might have committed the murder by sleepwalking. Many of the details McCollum shared were based upon information Bahl had provided during the earlier interview at LCC. Several of the details McCollum provided were inconsistent with the actual facts at the crime scene. Based upon McCollum's statements and the fact that he had checked out of the computer lab during the time of the murder, the police secured a criminal complaint and warrant against McCollum for the Kronenberg murder and sexual assault. McCollum was then arrested and jailed without bond pending further proceedings. Although the incident involved a brutal sexual assault and murder with blood at the crime scene, no physical evidence connected McCollum to the murder.

The Video Surveillance

Video surveillance was obtained from the TLC Building to look for additional evidence. The surveillance tape was multiplexed, i.e., frames from seven different cameras were recorded onto one tape, and the video was not recorded with date or time stamps. The original tape was essentially useless for the investigation. At the suggestion of Chief Imeson, Bahl arranged to have the Technical Services Unit of the Michigan State Police ("MSP") analyze the tape. On or about February 4, 2005, an LCC officer delivered a videotape to the Technical Services Unit for review and to have still prints made and enhance poor quality frames. Detective Sergeant James Young, an MSP video technician, performed this work. Detective Young initially made three tapes, each containing a different period of time, and gave them to Bahl to allow Bahl to compare the tapes with McCollum's star card swipe times. On February 22, 2005, Bahl returned the videotapes to Young, and Bahl advised Young of the frames in which he was interested, being the frames in which McCollum was seen swiping his starcard at the computer lab at 7:22 a.m., when he exited, and 9:41 a.m., when he reentered. Bahl advised Detective Young that the crime occurred between 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Although Bahl had initially requested Detective Young to demultiplex the tape, i.e., separate the frames of the video out for each of the seven cameras, for the entire 24-hour period, Detective Young obtained approval from the assistant prosecutor, Eric Matwiejczyk, to limit his work to the time between McCollum's star card swipes of 7:22 a.m. and 9:41 a.m.

In addition to demultiplexing the videotapes, Detective Young advised Bahl that he could possibly prepare an analysis of the times that McCollum was visible on camera. (Young Dep. at 124, 130-31.) Because the surveillance video was recorded in elapsed time, Detective Young prepared a time chart by correlating the frames on the video with the starcard swipe times and using mathematical calculations to extrapolate the video to real time. He described his work as follows:

What happened with this is as soon as Bahl told me, Detective Bahl told me that he had a time swipe of 7:22 and 9:41, it made sense to me, because I deal with video all day every day, that if you have a time of 7:22 and 9:41 and you can say that those times are accurate, it's possible that even though this is recorded in time-lapse mode, you may be able to do a ratio to try to figure out what happened during the time between 7:22 and 9:41. (Id. at 112-13.) Although Detective Young had not previously done work similar to this, (id. at 113), the task was relatively straightforward, as he used "very old and very simple mathematics to solve an equation." (Id. at 121.)

Based upon his results, Detective Young concluded that McCollum was visible on Camera 7 in the TLC Building during the entire time Bahl had identified as the murder time frame. He thus determined that unless the times Bahl identified for the card swipes or the frames Bahl chose were inaccurate, McCollum did not commit the crime. Detective Young had not expected that his work would show the suspect in the TLC Building during the entire murder time frame.

On March 28, 2005, Bahl met with Detective Young at Young's office to discuss the videotape work. During this meeting Detective Young and Bahl discussed time frames and Young's report and his opinions and conclusions that McCollum could be seen on the tape a majority of the time, including the time of the murder. (Young Dep. at 158-59.) Detective Young believes that he gave a copy of his March 28, 2005, report to Bahl, and he is positive that he gave Bahl a copy of the Excel spreadsheet, which contains the table of times included in Detective Young's March 28 report. (Id. at 158-61.) Detective Young also provided Bahl with copies of the seven videotapes with the tape times and counter-times of each tape written on the labels. During the meeting, Bahl immediately tried to pick apart Detective Young's analysis by pointing to times where he thought the murder could have happened. (Id. at 161-69.) Detective Young was 100% certain in his opinion that McCollum was in the TLC lobby during the entire time the murder could have occurred. (Id. at 115.)

On April 13, 2005, Bahl prepared a report describing the contents of each of the seven tapes that Detective Young prepared. Even though Bahl stated that "[t]here is no time and date stamp on the video so it is unknown what time it is and how long he is in view or out of view of the cameras," Bahl did not mention Detective Young's work or the starcard swipe times as providing reference points for the video. Bahl gave David Merchant, McCollum's initial defense attorney, three tapes, none of which was prepared by Detective Young. (Merchant Dep. at 199.) In separate conversations, Bahl and Matwiejczyk each told Merchant that they were unable to break down the tapes into separate tapes or do anything else with them. (Id. at 100, 154-55, 193.) Merchant was never told about Detective Young's work or that the Michigan State Police had been asked to break down the video. (Id. at 162, 197.)

McCollum's preliminary examination was held on July 7, 2005. During the preliminary examination, Bahl testified about McCollum's confession and how McCollum's statement that the perpetrator would not have had much time to commit the crime fit with Bahl's theory of the case and the murder time frame. During his testimony, Bahl did not mention that he supplied the crime scene details to McCollum, nor did he mention Detective Young's conclusion in his March 28, 2005, report. Furthermore, as mentioned above, Merchant was unaware of Detective Young's report and had not received copies of the tapes that Detective Young made and furnished to Bahl. Following the preliminary examination, McCollum was bound over for trial in the circuit court.

At some point after the preliminary examination, attorney David Lee Taylor replaced Merchant as McCollum's counsel. Taylor received copies of the tapes Young had prepared, including the tape from Camera 7, which shows McCollum sitting in the lobby of the TLC Building.*fn3 (Taylor Dep. at 384-85.) Matwiejczyk and Bahl told Taylor that Detective Young had looked at the tapes and could not make sense out of them as far as times. (Id. at 389.) Taylor was not told of Detective Young's March 25, 2005, report, the Excel spreadsheet, or conclusion that McCollum was not guilty.

The Trial

McCollum's trial was held from January 17, 2006, until February 14, 2006, at the conclusion of which the jury returned verdicts of guilty on both the murder and criminal sexual conduct charges. Although he had not previously provided a copy of his March 28, 2005, report to the prosecutor prior to trial, when Detective Young appeared and met with Bahl, Matwiejczyk, and another assistant prosecutor prior to testifying, he had his report with him and gave a copy to Matwiejczyk. Matwiejczyk instructed the other assistant prosecutor, Marie Wolfe, to make a copy for defense counsel. Matwiejczyk and Wolfe claim that they gave the report to Taylor during the break before Young took the stand and saw him read it. Taylor denies ...

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