NC Democrats want a law making it easier to get police body camera footage released to the public

Sen. Mujtaba A. Mohammed

Democratic legislators pressed for passage of a bill requiring footage from police body cameras to be released 48 hours after it is recorded, unless a judge orders a delay.

In a news conference, sponsors of Senate bill 510 and its companion,  House bill 698,   said the proposal would improve transparency.

A 2016 law requires a judge to allow the public release of police body camera or dash camera footage. The 2016 bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, but Democrats who spoke Tuesday said the law enforcement shooting last week in Elizabeth City showed its inadequacies.

“Accountability requires transparency and the law as currently written delays that transparency,” said Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

Instead of requiring a court petition to get footage released, the bills would require release 48 hours after footage was recorded if someone requests it. If a law enforcement agency doesn’t want to release the recording, it would have to go to a judge and say why the video should not be disclosed for a certain period of time.

The obstacles to public release of footage are highlighted by the Pasquotank deputy shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.

Brown was shot as deputies were attempting to serve a warrant.

State and local officials, including Gov. Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, the Elizabeth City Council, and civil rights groups have called

for the video recordings to be released.

Protesters in Elizabeth City have called for release of the footage.

The 2016 law allows family members to view footage without a court order. Brown family members and one of their lawyers said yesterday they were shown a 20-second clip from one camera on Monday. More than one deputy was at the scene.

“To think that it’s okay to show a grieving family 20 seconds of heavily-redacted body cam footage after their loved one has been killed by government officials is just plain wrong,” said Rep. Amos Quick III, a Guilford County Democrat.

The law has resulted in “a grieving family and a state with more questions than answers as this family prepares to bury the remains of a loved one and a promise of transparency remains unfulfilled,” he said.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, said the changes would establish certainty about releasing body cam footage, build trust between law enforcement agencies and the public, and protect law enforcement officers from unfounded accusations.

Chantal Stevens, ACLU North Carolina executive director, said the burden should be on law enforcement to show why footage shouldn’t be public. She said bill should go further to disallow the rationale that video is part of an ongoing investigation as a reason for not releasing it.

The NC Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that Gov. Roy Cooper created last year recommended that footage be released after 45 days.

Senate bill 510 was assigned to the Rules Committee, a holding tank for many bills that don’t have a chance at passage.

Rep. James Gailliard, a Rocky Mount Democrat, said that as legislators have begun to file bills based on the task force recommendations “they have pretty much been placed in the trash can.”

“In order to fix this problem, no one party has all the answers,” he said.

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