Killing of Harith Augustus

Interrogating state claims after police violence.

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Using digital modelling, spatial analysis, and investigative reporting techniques, Forensic Architecture - a research agency based at Goldsmiths - exposed serious instances of code violations and evidence mishandling by Chicago police in relation to the 2018 killing of Harith Augustus.

This research into the failings of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the city’s Civilian Office for Police Accountability (COPA) has become a model for contemporary investigations of police killings through media evidence, improving processes for storing and releasing evidence and precipitating state lawsuits in serious cases of code violations and evidence mishandling.

In the case of Augustus, a black Chicago resident killed during a stop-and-search operation in the city’s South Shore district, Forensic Architecture’s work led directly to the release of critical new evidence, media reporting, and wider public awareness and understanding of the event, and impacted city and police department policy, resulting in lawsuits at federal and state level.

The FA team deployed the spatial and image analytic techniques they had been developing since 2010, developed by founder-director Professor Eyal Weizman, which included study of evidence from police body-worn cameras, dashboard cameras, and CCTV. This approach to investigating alleged crimes by state actors is described as counter forensics - it turns the ‘forensic gaze’ back on the state.

Video had previously been withheld from the public, but an FOI request forced its publication. Footage was then synchronised and modelled digitally so the unfolding scene could be observed from multiple perspectives.

FA’s research also relied upon an interview technique developed by FA with support from Goldsmiths’ Forensic Psychology Unit, known as ‘situated testimony’, which uses 3D models to aid the process of interviewing and gathering testimony from witnesses.

As a result of FA’s findings, a contempt of court case was filed against the Mayor’s office, CPD and COPA over their failure to release evidence, and a wrongful death lawsuit was brought by the family of Augustus. Chicago’s city authorities commenced internal enquiries relating to their failures.

FA’s research has impacted the campaigning work of black communities who had experienced a long history of police violence, by providing evidence for continued failures of policing while opening up renewed public discussion about the case.

This research was carried out in partnership with the Invisible Institute.

This research was submitted for REF 2021.