Ad Spot

May 8, 2021

Other voices: State’s police video law leads to mistrust

The tortuous slow drip of police video footage in the fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City has confounded national media, which have struggled to explain this state’s convoluted police video law to the rest of the country.

Welcome to North Carolina.

And if it’s any consolation to our visitors, we don’t get it either.

As counter as the law is to the spirit of trust, open government and accountability, that’s how we roll here. And it needs to end.

Consider how, only a day earlier, the city of Columbus, Ohio, handled a similar situation very differently.

Following a fatal police shooting of a Black 16-year-old girl, authorities released body-camera footage of the incident within hours. In Elizabeth City, it will be a matter of weeks.

A Superior Court judge ruled that the police footage will not be made public, as both media outlets and the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office had requested, for at least another 30 days.

Judge Jeffery Foster did, however, rule that Brown’s family will be allowed to view videos of the incident.

While we wait, wildly conflicting accounts of what happened to Brown are swirling and tensions are rising in the small, majority-Black city in the northeast corner of the state.

Did Brown, a Black man, “make contact” with deputies with his car, as the district attorney suggests? Or was Brown seated at the steering wheel when the shots rang out and tried to move his car only after the deputies advanced and started shooting, as one of the Brown family’s lawyers attests?

The state’s police video law, passed in 2016, requires a judge’s order for its release to the public, which never made sense.

And its primary sponsor is Rep. John Faircloth, a High Point Republican and former police chief.

Time and again the law has bred confusion and frustration as the public tries to sort out what happened in high-profile incidents of police shootings or other uses of force.

And how it is applied can vary wildly from one instance to the next.

In March 2020, following a request by the police chief in Raleigh, a judge released footage of a nonfatal police shooting two days after the incident. But in June 2020, when media requested the release of body-camera footage following the death of a Greensboro man in the Forsyth County Jail, the case wasn’t heard until July — and the videos weren’t released until a week later.

There are many such examples.

The case of Brown, a Black man who was shot while in his car by deputies as they attempted to serve warrants, is disturbing enough in itself. The lack of access to the deputies’ body-camera footage only heightens tension and increases the space for rumors and misinformation.

What lawmakers also seem not to realize is that police video often justifies an officer’s actions.

After the shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, early accounts had swirled that the youth was shot by a white officer after she had dropped a knife she was holding.

But police footage showed Ma’Khia swinging the knife at a second female, who appears to be pinned against a car, before the officer fired. The video was released so quickly “because the public deserves to know what happens,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said.

Bills sponsored by Democrats in the N.C. General Assembly would add consistency to the state’s police video policy, requiring that footage be released within 48 hours of a request. The legislation also would allow the agency that possesses the video to request a delay.

As we see it, these bills would turn right-side-up what is upside-down under the current law. Police video is a public record and, as such, should be made available to the public. That’s where the law should begin.

Then any requests for exceptions should go before a judge.

The public’s right to know comes first. And until the backward logic of Faircloth’s bill is fixed, we will remain stuck in an endless loop of delay and mistrust.

— Winston-Salem Journal

Comments

Coronavirus

People receiving first dose of COVID-19 vaccine grows by less than 1%

Business

Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City

Sports

Woodland, two others share lead; Mickelson plays much worse but will still be around for weekend at Quail Hollow

Business

Former NHL player to open mobster themed bar in Raleigh

Nation/World

California population declines for first time

News

GOP leaders differ on bottom line for state spending

News

Police: Man killed in shootout with officers in Winston-Salem

Crime

Man charged after thieves rob would-be gun buyers of wallets, shoes

Crime

Blotter: Four added to sheriff’s most wanted list

High School

High school football: Some anxious moments, but Hornets win state title

Local

Photos: Salisbury High Hornets win big in 2AA championship game

Local

County manager outlines projections for the upcoming fiscal year budget, suggests uses for stimulus money

Business

Miami-based Browns Athletic Apparel opens second screen printing location in Salisbury

News

At funeral, fallen Watauga deputies remembered as ‘heroes’

Coronavirus

COVID-19 cluster identified at Granite Quarry Elementary

Coronavirus

More than half of North Carolinians have now taken at least one vaccine shot

Local

City hopes to cover expenses in 2021-22 budget with surplus revenue generated this year

Local

Fallen tree proves to be a blessing for local nonprofit Happy Roots

Local

Quotes of the week

Coronavirus

Health department drops quarantine time from 14 to 10 days

Crime

Blotter: More than $100,000 in property reported stolen from Old Beatty Ford Road site

Local

City fights invasive beetles by injecting trees with insecticide

Local

City names downtown recipients for federal Parks Service grant