RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Democrats in the General Assembly called for changes Tuesday to the state’s law regarding the release of police body camera footage, saying that video should be made available within 48 hours of it being recorded.
They cited the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. by sheriff’s deputies in Pasquotank County last week. Family members saw 20 seconds of body camera video Monday, which was edited. Protesters in Elizabeth City have called for the video to be released for the public to see.
“To think that it is OK to show a grieving family 20 heavily redacted seconds of body camera footage after their loved one has been killed by government officials is just plain wrong,” said Rep. Amos Quick (D-Guilford).
The legislation Democrats proposed would put the onus on law enforcement to explain to a judge why a video should not be released, including if releasing the video would jeopardize someone’s safety. There’s an identical version of that bill filed in the House and Senate.
“Timely and adequate release of body camera footage is in the public interest,” said Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Mecklenburg). “Accountability requires transparency, and the law as currently written delays that transparency.”
For video to be released under current law, a petition must be filed with a Superior Court judge who determines whether to authorize that release.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, said when the law passed in 2016 it was meant to be a compromise.
“It strikes a very fair balance between the public’s need to know, the law enforcement investigation’s needs and the concerns of the families and any citizens who might be in the video,” he said.
Sen. Danny Britt (R-Columbus/Robeson) said he does not support the 48-hour timeline proposed by Democrats.
“Both sides should be afforded the opportunity to prepare for that hearing where they’re going to have the opportunity to be heard. Forty-eight hours is not sufficient enough time,” he said. “I think the process is working. I think we need to clear up the timeline.”
Britt is proposing a change to the law that would require these matters be heard at the next Superior Court session after a petition is filed. The law currently calls for a hearing “as soon as practicable.”
Britt said, “Even by saying it’s the next Superior Court session in that county where that petition was filed, then you know that within 15 days that’s going to be heard.”
He noted when the law passed in 2016, it did so by a margin of 48-2 in the Senate. It passed 88-20 in the House.
Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake County), who was among the Democrats calling for changes to the body camera law, voted in favor of the current law five years ago.
He said, “I think the bill passed at that time because we recognize that it was a compromise. But, I think like with any legislation, we see that many parts of it are unworkable.”