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N.C. Body Camera Law Used to Shield Greensboro Police from Accusations of Abuse

A year after law passed exempting footage from public records laws, the inevitable consequences.

Police camerasRolf Vennenbernd/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomJose Charles, 15, and his family would like the public to see the way Charles was treated by police in an incident a year ago in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Charles' violent arrest was captured on police body cameras, and he and his mother want it to be released to the public because they believe it shows police misconduct. Greensboro's City Council voted to support the family's request to have the camera footage released. Greensboro's Police Community Review Board agrees with the family.

But the police department and a local judge have managed to keep the video out of the public's eye, thanks to a new law in North Carolina exempting body camera footage from public records laws.

Police arrested Charles in July 2016 at a festival after a fight with a group of teens. He and his mother, Tamara Figueroa, claim he was the one attacked. Subsequently, police officers restrained Charles and was apparently coughing up blood. He spit blood in one of the officers' faces. His mother claims Charles spit because he was having trouble breathing. Police filed a host of charges against him.

The accounts in several news reports from the Greensboro News & Record are very vague. Viewing the body camera footage from the four officers who were on scene would clear it up.

But around the same time Charles was having this encounter with police, North Carolina lawmakers were passing a bill exempting body camera footage from public records requests. The law put law enforcement agencies and judges in charge of deciding what footage may be released.

Despite the many city officials and the review board supporting the family's request, a judge has refused, claiming, incredibly, the video's release could "harm the reputation of Jose Charles and members of his family." That the family wants the video released is apparently not enough to overcome his concern.

All the charges against Charles have since been dropped in exchange for him accepting a plea over some other unrelated accusations. Several members of the review board have resigned over the police department's behavior in this case.

When North Carolina implemented this law, civil rights and transparency experts warned of exactly these sorts of outcomes—law enforcement agencies and judges deciding what the public had the right to see and hear and doing so in a way that protects themselves from criticism. After police fatally shot a man in Charlotte last year, I warned:

Body camera footage will help give people outside these communities a better sense over time how police treat the citizens they're supposed to be protecting and a better sense of how to evaluate and interpret these community backlashes. The circumstances of he the shooting should decide whether or not the officer did anything wrong and should be disciplined or charged with a crime. But the context of the shooting put in perspective with how police in Charlotte interact with citizens also needs to be evaluated in order to shape enforcement behavior. Keeping all footage secret by default does not assist the community in watching the watchers.

Now there are new accusations of excessive force lodged against Greensboro Police as a result of an incident that happened earlier this month. The officer accused of attacking a man for being drunk and disorderly is the same officer accused of attacking Charles. Watch a clip of the arrest captured not on police body camera footage, but from a witness with a phone, here.

Photo Credit: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Look, we need to exempt these videos to protect the public's privacy. Who wants to have their shameful arrest out there for everyone to see?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Don't want to be treated like a thing? Don't cough up blood like a Thug.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Lots of issues here. I'm too drunk too early

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    a judge has refused, claiming, incredibly, the video's release could "harm the reputation of Jose Charles and members of his family." That the family wants the video released is apparently not enough to overcome his concern.

    Thanks for knowing what's best for us, your judgeship!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm looking for the union thug lurking in the background.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It's the two police officers right there.

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    Watch a clip of the arrest captured not on police body camera footage, but from a witness with a phone, here.

    The second the man reacted to a police officer touching him they pounced. If you encounter a gang of overweight, armed men in shorts, just do your best to walk away.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Despite the many city officials and the review board supporting the family's request, a judge has refused, claiming, incredibly, the video's release could "harm the reputation of Jose Charles and members of his family."

    This sort of makes sense, if the reputation at stake is "guy who commits intentional biological warfare against police officers."

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    It could worsen Jose's reputation with the PD even further, which is a dangerous possibility.

  • Rhywun||

    Stupid question - what's the point of the body cameras if nobody who doesn't have a vested interest in protecting cops gets to see what's on them? They might as well just get a refund on all of them and return the savings to the taxpayer.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    return the savings to the taxpayer

    There is not this idea at any level of government.

  • Rhywun||

    Obviously, I was being ridiculous.

  • Adam330||

    Well sometimes they will prove the cops version of events were right. And you can be sure they'll be released in those situations.

  • ||

    One thing I do find interesting is the seeming lack of overlap between white nationalism and police bodycam footage.

    Makes it seem like helmet-wearing, torch-toting white supremacists and the badge-toting white supremacy are distinctly different breeds. Or at least the latter, despite repeatedly demonstrating incompetence in covering up high crimes and misdemeanors, somehow manages not to breath a word about what goes on at their klan meetings, the master race's secret plan, or how they keep their hoods so crisp and white.

  • ||

    what's the point of the body cameras if nobody who doesn't have a vested interest in protecting cops gets to see what's on them?

    7. Foreseeable consequences are not unintended.

    The cameras aren't there to prevent people from being harassed by police. The cameras are there to document the *precise* amount of harassment police can get away with before getting into trouble.

  • some guy||

    Whatever happened to "if you have nothing hide, you have nothing to fear"?

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Nothing. It only applies to proles.

  • ||

    All the charges against Charles have since been dropped in exchange for him accepting a plea over some other unrelated accusations.

    Seems weird to plead guilty to accusations that have nothing to do with you.

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