Criminal justice reforms move forward in NC General Assembly, but no change to bodycam footage law

North Carolina Politics

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Bills dealing with a series of bipartisan criminal justice reforms moved forward at the General Assembly Tuesday, but they do not include a proposed change to the state’s body camera law amid calls for greater transparency in Pasquotank County. 

People have protested since sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Andrew Brown, Jr., last month calling for body camera footage of the incident to be made public. 

A judge ruled last week that Brown’s family would be able to view the footage but not the public.   

Sen. Danny Britt (R-Columbus/Robeson) had previously called for a change to the body camera law that would require a hearing on a request to release video be conducted at the next Superior Court session, but he said following last week’s hearing in Pasquotank County he’s no longer advocating for that change. 

“Seeing how quickly things moved, right now I don’t know that that’s necessary,” he said. “The process worked. We’ve got a neutral party that’s reviewing it. You’ve got a neutral party making the decision. The decision is not being based on politics.” 

Democrats in the General Assembly have called for changes to the law that would presume body camera videos are public records and require they be available to be released 48 hours after an incident unless a judge finds a compelling reason why the videos should not be released. 

Under current law, the public and law enforcement must file a petition in court to seek a judge’s permission for body camera video to be released.  

“The current process doesn’t work,” said Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Mecklenburg). “And, I don’t think it’s appropriate to put the onus on the public. So, any fixes to the current body camera law would be much appreciated.” 

Britt is one of the lead sponsors of Senate Bill 300, which includes a series of criminal justice reforms, such as requiring a duty for law enforcement officers to intervene and report cases of excessive force, creating a state database of disciplinary actions against officers, and increasing penalties for people who participate in riots, among other changes.

There are various bills in the House, including a handful that moved forward Tuesday, that also address similar issues.  

Democrats have called for those reforms to go further, highlighting the various recommendations of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Racial Equity Task Force. 

During a news conference Tuesday, they called attention to proposals to require a special prosecutor in police use-of-force cases, making body camera video a public record, and decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and reforms to cash bail, among other priorities. 

“These aren’t issues that we expect to get right today, tomorrow, but what we know is we’ve got to keep having the conversation,” said House Minority Leader Robert Reives (D).  

Britt pointed out Republicans have backed several bipartisan criminal justice reforms in recent years, including the Second Chance Act, which allowed more people convicted of non-violent crimes to seek expunctions.  

He said, “I get it. Gov. Cooper and (Atty. Gen.) Josh Stein, they’ve got their committees and they’re coming up with good stuff. But, there was a lot more they could have done and we’ve done it.” 

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