Why have police, everywhere in the past few years, adopted the use of body cameras for interactions with the public? It’s simple: if there is a dispute concerning any contact with a member of the public, that there is a video record of the exchange. It’s meant to protect the officer(s) from fraudulent charges of policy brutality, etc. When a charge is made by the public, the record will prove one way or another what the truth of any charges are. It does happen that some officers are in the wrong, and appropriately disciplined (suspension, firing, or other charges as appropriate), and supposedly gives the general public. more confidence in their law enforcement officers.
Although the video belongs to the specific agency, for any disciplinary action required, it also belongs to the public. as well. Other than for possible criminal action against the officer, there is never a reason to withhold any video from the public, if requested. How do I know this? I know, and have asked police officers. Of course a judge may deny the release of any video due to it being prejudicial in a civil or criminal proceeding. Strictly speaking, that would be correct because the video may influence those to be seated on a jury and that jury should be the first ones to actually view the video in question.
What if the video in dispute belongs to private law enforcement, or those that emply them? Should that video be made public even though the recorder is a private person or institution? That depends on if there is an action being brought against that person or institution. By law, it is discoverable evidence, for both sides of the dispute. But what if there’s no current action against one side or the other? If one side just wants a copy of the video to show that they were innocent of any allegations made against them? It becomes a little more complicated, from what I’m told.
What if the entity that has charge of the video has already, directly or by proxy, alleged an offense and had allowed their statements to become public and, on the Internet, go viral so as to ruin the reputation of someone only to somehow protect their own? Think about it for a moment: One side says whatever they eant, it becomes a national media story, and the person accused has no recourse? In this instance, the accused has the right to the video to show whether or not the charges, made by others, would withstand a claim of privacy. Well, of course they wouldn’t because the party of the first part had already spoken about whatever the incident was and the only relief for the other party would be the release of the police body camera video to prove the allegations were false.
Or true, because once the video becomes public, it is that same public, that would decide on the veracity of any allegations, sans a civil or criminal proceeding. In other words, they can’t have it both ways: they can’t speak out alleging some infraction and then not release the actual, unedited, video that would affirm or refute the same. In this country, the accused has rights and one of those is the right to see the evidence against them. Should it take a lawsuit for that video to be released? No, not if the owner has already made public statements. All evidence, written or recorded in any format, has to be turned over to the accused, whether or not there is an active court case filed. Not turning it over, would be a violation of Due Process, which is a basic Constitutional right no matter if the owner entity is public or private.
Why am I writing about this now? Our friend (well my friend) Sarah Braasch will be headed to Connecticut soon for a hearing to determine whether or not Yale University, a private entity, must turn over the unedited police body camera video of her encounter on May 8, 2018. That video was recorded by the Yale Police Department, a wholly owned department within the Yale University system. Until now, they have refused to voluntarily turn over the video even though that same video may exonerate them of any malfeasance. As I wrote in another post:
I would think though that if the video vindicated Yale’s position, they a) wouldn’t need to hire outside counsel, and b) would be eager to release the video to end any further speculation about the incident itself.
I stand by this statement. As I also said in that same piece, the only reason Yale would have to prevaricate to the extent they have is to run out the clock for Sarah. That clock being money. There’s not many of us that have the resources of a large institution like Yale, or any large corporation. All they need to do is wait, and file motions to delay, delay, delay. At some point, the accused will become exhausted of not only their energy but their finances as well to pursue any sort of justice. Justice is the ultimate outcome, for all those involved. Hopefully, Connecticut will understand what’s a stake here: a persons reputation, their ability to work in their preferred profession, without the cloud of being an alleged racist hanging over them.
We’ll find out soon whether the Commonwealth of Connecticut, prefers transparency and justice over protecting a private entity.
Editors Note: In researching this post, I spoke with some law enforcement officers I know personally who wear body cameras, on duty, daily. I asked and received permission to audio record our conversation, to be used as notes for this post and to not directly quote anyone. I also spoke with a person I know in our District Attorney’s office, for legal background, with the same consideration.