By Michael Praats | April 28, 2021 at 11:19 AM EDT – Updated April 28 at 7:38 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – As a judge deliberates on the release of body camera footage from the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr., the discussion surrounding North Carolina’s body camera law is once again called into question.
The current law comes from 2016 after then-Governor Pat McCrory signed a law limiting access to body camera videos. The law made it so police videos taken from dashcams and body cameras were no longer considered public records, instead, anyone requesting to see the video or have it released must get a judge to sign off on its release.
This immediately made access to videos more difficult for the average citizen who might not want to or be able to afford the costs of going to court to secure the release of body camera footage. At the time, McCrory said the law would help increase transparency in law enforcement.
However, critics of the law say it does the opposite.
“Broadly speaking, the law in North Carolina puts a lot of procedural hurdles in the way of the public or the press to get body cam footage. That’s one of the things that makes our law a little bit different from some other states – you have to go to court to get body cam footage,” Brooks Fuller, Director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition said.
In order for the general public or the media to obtain any part of body camera footage, they must petition a judge for the release – something that most people are not likely to do.
“It doesn’t necessarily take an attorney to do that but in most cases, it likely would. So it is going to be difficult to ask a citizen to take time off of work, and go down to the courthouse, make those arguments and in a lot of cases, probably come up short,” Fuller said.
The law saw support from legislators when it was passed, however, in recent weeks there has been some pushback against it.
A new law, Senate Bill 510, sponsored by Sen. Ben Clark (D-Hoke), Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Mecklenberg) has been submitted to the legislature that would change the way body camera videos are released. The proposed law would require departments to release body-worn or dashboard camera footage after 48 hours of an incident – or get a court order blocking its release.
In Wilmington, people saw firsthand the difficulties of getting footage released when a judge ruled last summer that the footage of three police officers who were caught on dashboard camera making ‘hate-filled and racist statements, was not to be made public.
The SBI is working on an investigation into the shooting death of Brown, and on Wednesday, the agency said it supports transparency.
“As far as any relevant video, we defer to the local authorities and the courts to make that determination as guided by state law. The SBI supports transparency to the greatest extent possible, as we think this serves the interests of the family, the local community, and North Carolina as a whole,” a statement read.
A judge is hearing arguments for and against the release of the video Wednesday morning, a decision is expected to be made on the release of Brown’s shooting sometime then.
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