New North Carolina law set to block release of police video footage
Governor: "One viewpoint of a video doesn't often always tell the whole story"
Videos released by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department of the fatal encounter between officers and Keith Lamont Scott could be the last such footage that North Carolina authorities share with the public.
Scott died on September 20. In the five days since the shooting, protesters have demanded that Charlotte Police release video footage of the incident.
Initially, Police Chief Kerr Putney chose not to immediately release the camera footage, only doing so amid pressure from the public. Release of another video from one of Scott’s family members also added to the calls for police to release their footage.
Putney’s decision may be one of the final times a police chief will relent to public pressure.
That’s because a new law that goes into effect on October 1, exactly one week after the Scott footage was released, is set to block the public from obtaining similar kinds of recordings from body cameras or dashboard cameras.
The whole story?
Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the legislation two months ago, has said the law would balance “public trust” with the rights and safety of police officers.
In an interview this week with CNN, the Republican governor and one-time mayor of Charlotte doubled down his support for the measure.
It’s about “respecting the public, respecting the family, and also respecting the constitutional rights of the officer,” he said.
“One viewpoint of a video doesn’t often always tell the whole story,” McCrory said. “The angles can make a difference, and [you’re] not hearing [the sound] often in the video, so that [adds to] the complexity. The video is one piece of evidence. We have to be careful.”
Public record, no more
Previously, North Carolina had no uniform law regarding the release of dashboard or body camera footage.
As more officers have become outfitted with body cameras, particularly following the heightened scrutiny surrounding officer-involved shootings, law enforcement agencies in the state made their own rules. Most agencies considered such footage personnel footage, allowing for its release under limited circumstances through public record requests.
With the new law, both types of videos would no longer be considered personnel records or part of the public record. As a result, police departments would have more discretion as to whether they release the videos. The law has the full support of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.
Any denied requests could be appealed before a judge, according to the law.
‘No tapes; no peace’
The shooting that left Scott dead in a Charlotte apartment complex parking lot sparked days of protest and even a riot, forcing McCrory to declare a state of emergency. The protesters, who made numerous demands, urged the police to release the footage immediately.
As protesters marched Saturday, they continued those calls, chanting “no tapes; no peace.”
Later that evening, authorities complied with those demands. They released the videos, along with photographs of a handgun, holster and marijuana cigarette that officers said they recovered from the scene.
The release came one day after Rakeyia Scott, the victim’s widow, released her own cellphone video of the deadly incident. The Scott family contends that Keith Lamont Scott was not armed at the time of the shooting.
Neither her video nor those of the police department definitively show that Keith Lamont Scott was armed. However, the release goes a long way toward meeting public demands for transparency — at least for now.
More rules, less scrutiny?
To Karen Anderson, executive director of the ACLU’s North Carolina chapter, such footage remains vital to informing the public about officer-involved shootings.
If the Scott shooting happened after October 1, she said, Charlotte would’ve had the ability to keep the videos out of the sight unless otherwise ordered by a court.
Calling the McCrory-backed law “disgraceful,” Anderson said in a statement last week that “video footage of police shootings can provide crucial evidence of what took place – especially when there are conflicting accounts from police and community members.” Not unlike the Scott shooting.
Under the new law, though, only individuals filmed in a body-camera or dashcam video— or in some cases their family members – would be allowed to view such footage. They would not, however, be allowed to obtain a copy of that video.
The changes to the law, she fears, could undermine transparency at a delicate time for police relations with minority residents in Charlotte following Scott’s death.
“What we already know is that far too many people of color are victims of wrongful targeting and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers across the country,” Anderson said in a statement. “We were once again harshly reminded that North Carolina is not immune to that reality.”
CNN’s Nadeem Muaddi contributed to this report