Some North Carolina lawmakers want to make police body cam video public within 48 hours of an incident, in the wake of Andrew Brown’s killing earlier this month in Elizabeth City. Brown’s family saw just 20 seconds of the heavily edited video.
North Carolina House Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday to change the laws surrounding the release of police body camera footage following the police killing of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City last week.
Community members, the governor, and the state attorney general are among the chorus calling for the video to be made available.
The bill, HB 698, would require all body- and dash-cam footage taken by law enforcement to be released within two days of an incident without a court order. Democratic state Reps. James Gailliard (Rocky Mount and Nash County) and Amos Quick (Greensboro) introduced it on the heels of Brown’s killing by Pasquotank County deputies attempting to serve a search warrant last week.
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The incident took place just hours after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the murder of George Floyd. Brown was shot five times, including once in the back of his head, while in his car.
A companion bill in the Senate, SB 510, which is backed by Democratic state Sens. Mujtaba Mohammed (Mecklenburg County) and Jay Chaudhuri (Raleigh, Cary, and Garner), has been stalled for weeks in the Senate Rules Committee without a hearing.
Currently, under a 2016 North Carolina law, police body camera footage is not considered public record and cannot be released to the press or public without a court order.
The Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office filed a petition for the footage to be disclosed to Brown’s family Monday, and that afternoon the county attorney showed an edited clip of Brown’s killing to Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee and Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, an attorney for Brown’s minor children. They were not allowed to record or copy the video.
“To think that it is ok to show a grieving family 20 heavily redacted seconds of bodycam footage after their loved one has been killed is just plain wrong,” Quick said, in a news release.
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Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten, whose office also filed a request Monday to disclose the video to the family, has promised transparency, but defended the limited footage shown to the family.
“Body cameras are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher,” Wooten said in a Facebook video. “They only tell part of the story.”
He insisted that other sheriff’s offices need to interview witnesses and gather more information, but as the days draw out with no arrests and only limited information made public, public pressure is mounting.
During a press conference Saturday at Mt. Lebanon AME Zion Church in Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County NAACP President Keith Rivers demanded that Wooten step down from office.
A coalition of news outlets has filed a request to release the video footage to the greater public, although a Superior Court judge denied that request Wednesday. The following factors currently may be considered in a decision to release body camera footage:
- If the recording contains information that is confidential or exempt from disclosure or release under State or federal law.
- If disclosure would reveal information regarding a person that is of a highly sensitive personal nature.
- If disclosure may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person.
- If disclosure would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.
- If confidentiality is necessary to protect either an actual or potential internal or criminal investigation.
Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster let the third and final factors guide his ruling, which he said is to protect the identity of the involved officers and avoid tainting the outcome of a trial. Brown’s immediate family will see video from four of the body cameras with faces and nametags blurred in the next 10 days, but the full video of all seven cameras will not be released to them for 30-45 days, once the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation completes its inquest.
“It took five days for police to release a 20-second clip of the incident that left Andrew Brown dead. In the end, the family was left with more questions than answers. Our current law erodes public trust in law enforcement. It is clear that we need reform,” Chaudhuri said in a statement.
“The public has a right to know. They deserve answers, and they deserve justice,” Mohammed said in the same release.
Both Gov. Roy Cooper and NC Attorney General Josh Stein have voiced support for releasing the video. Late Tuesday afternoon, Cooper also called for a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into Brown’s killing. Late Tuesday, the FBI announced that it was opening a federal civil rights investigation into the case.