Cameras often clear police officers falsely accused of misconduct

The revelation this week that a Texas woman had falsely accused a state trooper of sexually assaulting her during a traffic stop is the latest of several in the last two years in which video footage was critical to clearing a police officer of alleged wrongdoing.

In this latest case, the woman, Sherita Dixon-Cole, had alleged that Officer Daniel Hubbard made sexual advances after she failed a field sobriety test. She went on to accuse Hubbard of assaulting her in his police car, and continuing to make advances, promising he’d release her from custody, on the drive to the police station.

But two hours of bodycam footage discredited the allegations, prompting Dixon-Cole’s attorney to call his client’s fabrication “appalling.”

“Officer Daniel Hubbard seems to comport himself professionally during the duration of the traffic stop and arrest and — without more — should be cleared of any wrongdoing,” he said in a statement.

“It is deeply troubling when innocent parties are falsely accused, and I am truly sorry for any trouble these claims may have caused Officer Hubbard and his family. I take full responsibility for amplifying these claims to the point of national concern.”

Here are some other instances in which video footage contradicted accusations against officers:

— The president of a South Carolina chapter of the NAACP accused an officer several weeks ago of profiling him during a stop. The chapter president, a pastor, alleged that the officer accused him of having drugs, asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood and threatened to put him in jail, according to The News & Observer in Raleigh.

The accuser, the Rev. Jerrod Moultrie, took to Facebook to say, “Tonight, I was racially profiled by Timmonsville Officer CAUSE I WAS DRIVING A MERCEDES BENZ AND GOING HOME IN A NICE NEIGHBORHOOD.”

But body camera footage showed no such comments were made, infuriating Timmonsville Police Chief Billy Brown, who told a local ABC station, “When I saw the video, I was shocked that someone who is supposed to be a community leader, a pastor and head of the NAACP would just come out and tell a blatant lie.”

“It bothered me,” Brown said. “It really bothered me, thinking about the racial unrest it could’ve cost in the community and it’s just troubling to me that someone who held a position like that would come out and just tell a lie.”

A Harker Heights, Texas, woman accused police of brutality and wrongful arrest after a New Year’s Eve party. But video and audio evidence indicated that the woman, Leah Dure, was injured before encountering Officer Joshua Wood through an altercation with her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s wife and others, reported KCENTV.com

Her attorney, Lee Merritt, then announced that he was no longer representing Dure.

“There is no factual basis to believe that Officer Joshua Wood committed an assault against Leah Dure,” Merritt said in an updated statement.

Attorney Robert McCabe, who represents Officer Wood, denounced the false accusation, saying it inflamed racial tensions and hurt the cause of people with legitimate grievances against law enforcement.

Last year, a Facebook post out of Alabama claimed that a police officer had beaten a man “half to death and pushed him off a bridge” after a traffic stop,  AL.com reported.

But a video released by police contradicted the allegations. The video, which was tracked down by the Rainbow City Police Department after the chief learned of the Facebook accusation, showed that officers were checking the name given by the man — a passenger in the car — and found it to be fraudulent. The police checked his real name, provided by the driver, and learned that his probation had been revoked over two felony warrants.

As they approached the man to question him about their findings, he took off, crossing two lanes of traffic and jumping off a bridge. The police used a stun gun when the man would not comply with their orders. The video, according to published reports, disproved the allegations against the police, showing that the use of the stun gun was the only contact authorities used throughout the episode.

In 2016, a Georgia fire captain and fire department employee accused a police officer of being hostile and threatening during a traffic stop over an expired license tag. But a dashboard and body camera showed otherwise.

During the stop, DeKalb County Fire and Rescue Captain Terrell Davis threatened to call the county’s public safety director, Cedric Alexander. As the officer, Sgt. Stephen Floyd, wrote the ticket, another fire employee said the matter would be reported to Alexander. The employee, Krystal Cathcart, filed a complaint alleging that Floyd told her to keep quiet, using vulgarities and threatening to throw her in the “back of my squad car.” Davis supported her version of events, according to the local Fox affiliate.

Video footage showed no such exchange.

Davis was fired, but then was reinstated, according to the local Fox affiliate station. Last year, Cathcart pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false statement. She received a two-year probated sentence, and was ordered to complete 40 hours’ community service, write two letters of apology and pay a $500 fine.

Video footage has also corroborated accusations of excessive force and other controversial actions.

Body camera video showed Milwaukee police earlier this year being confrontational toward Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown, who was thrown to the ground and exposed to a stun gun over a parking violation, according to USA Today.

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said at a news conference Wednesday that police officers “acted inappropriately and were disciplined.

“I am sorry this incident escalated to this level,” he said.

MILWAUKEE POLICE APOLOGIZE FOR BUCKS GUARD STERLING BROWN’S ARREST AS VIDEO RELEASED

Brown is planning to file a civil rights lawsuit against the police.

“This experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has forced me to stand up and tell my story so that I can help prevent these injustices from happening in the future,” he said.

“Black men shouldn’t have to have their guard up and instantly be on the defensive when seeing a police officer, but it’s our reality and a real problem,” he continued. “There must be mutual respect, and both sides have to figure out how to accomplish this.”

Elizabeth Llorente, | Fox News, May 25, 2018, “Cameras often clear police officers falsely accused of misconduct”, https://www.foxnews.com/us/cameras-often-clear-police-officers-falsely-accused-of-misconduct

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NYPD Union’s Lawsuit Could Reverse-Engineer Body Cameras Into Surveillance Tools

By Michael Sisitzky, Lead Policy Counsel, New York Civil Liberties Union

Police Body Camera

New York City’s largest police union doesn’t believe in public accountability for its officers. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association made this abundantly clear again last week when it sued the city in an effort to block the release of NYPD body camera footage, citing a state civil rights law that bars the release of certain personnel records.

If the union’s lawsuit is successful, it will create a nightmare scenario for police reform advocates, like the New York Civil Liberties Union, who hoped body cameras could increase transparency and accountability for police departments across the state.

The lawsuit argues that section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law, which limits the release of certain police personnel records, prevents the city from releasing body camera footage, unless an officer consents to the release. The suit contends that body camera footage qualifies as a type of personnel record because it could be used as part of an officer’s performance evaluation.

In reality, this is another ploy to keep the public in the dark about what police officers are up to and to make an already opaque police disciplinary system even more inaccessible. Police shootings and other police activities deserve close public scrutiny, and it is a gross distortion of state law to claim it bars the release of body camera video. This lawsuit is bad for police accountability and without legal merit.

It’s worth remembering why the NYPD got body cameras in the first place. The current body camera pilot program was ordered by a federal judge, who found that the department’s stop-and-frisk policy violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino New Yorkers. The cameras were intended to provide the public with a window into what NYPD officers were up to and to rebuild the badly damaged relationship between officers and the communities they are supposed to serve.

If a judge were to side with the PBA, it could mean that the public would be kept from accessing footage of police misconduct. Journalists could be barred from getting the footage and reporting on it. Family members of people killed by officers could be prevented from seeing video of deadly encounters. Under the PBA’s misinterpretation of the law, if the killing of Eric Garner had been recorded on a body camera instead of a bystander’s cell phone, the footage may have never reached the public eye.

A win for the PBA would turn body cameras, paid for with millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, into yet another NYPD mass surveillance tool to be used against vulnerable New Yorkers. Public support for body cameras will not last if the police accountability aspect of the devices is erased and they simply become public surveillance devices.This would be a devastating blow for holding officers responsible for their actions and would negate the potential value body cameras could add to improving police-community relations.

The litigation also has the potential to neuter and warp body camera programs being implemented by departments across the state, as section 50-a applies statewide. And body cam footage isn’t the only kind of public record that the police want to push down the memory hole. The NYCLU currently has a case pending in the state’s highest court arguing that 50-a does not prevent the release of redacted judicial opinions in NYPD disciplinary trials, and we balked at the city’s attempt to suddenly hide NYPD decisions relating to officers’ mistreatment of New Yorkers.

But organizations like the NYCLU, the media, and members of the public shouldn’t have to spend years in court fighting for the right to access these public records. That’s why the NYCLU is calling on state lawmakers to get rid of 50-a. The law is unnecessary and has been used by opponents of transparency to keep important information about police misconduct shrouded in darkness.

The PBA’s lawsuit is based on an erroneous interpretation of the law. But so long as 50-a remains on the books, the police will attempt to hide behind it and twist the law in ways that undermine the public’s right to hold government power accountable.

Michael Sisitzky, New York Civil Liberties Union, January 19, 2018, “NYPD Union’s Lawsuit Could Reverse-Engineer Body Cameras Into Surveillance Tools”, https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/nypd-unions-lawsuit-could-reverse-engineer-body

Police Union Pushes Back on Body Cameras in El Paso, Texas

Union leaders say policies and privacy concerns must be addressed before the technology is implemented.

by Elida S. Perez, El Paso Times / December 11, 2017

Shutterstock

(TNS) — When city Rep. Henry Rivera, a former El Paso police officer, advocated that the city apply for a state grant to obtain body cameras for police officers, he thought the idea was simple: there’s money available, go apply for it.

Cities nationwide are increasingly outfitting their police departments with body cameras, many in light of concerns about police brutality and officer-involved shootings.

Across Texas, cities like Dallas, Houston and Austin have already rolled out body camera programs. And in the border region, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Horizon city and neighboring Las Cruces, N.M., have also implemented body camera programs for law enforcement.

But El Paso Police Department and police union leaders are pushing back against a proposal that would require officers to wear body cameras, saying other funding priorities and policy and privacy concerns must first be addressed.

They say they are not opposed to the cameras, but that the city shouldn’t rush into acquiring them without first studying how to pay for them and how to implement and manage them in the long term. They also say hiring more officers and buying new police cars and updated radios should remain a top funding priority.

And, the police union said it is concerned that officers may unfairly face disciplinary action if the technology malfunctions or a private conversation over the course of a work day is caught on tape, for example.

“We have some administrative concerns over their usage — like when are they going to be turned on? When are they going to be turned off?” El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association President Ron Martin said. “I do not want my officers recorded 24/7.”

Martin said sometimes emergency situations unfold so quickly that an officer may not have time to turn on the camera, which he fears may be seen as an attempt to hide what occurred.

“What happens if I’m driving and somebody jumps out of the car and you get into a scuffle instantly?” Martin said. “’Well hold on sir — let me turn my body camera on so it can show what you are doing to me.’”

Body camera policies are not new in the border region.

El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies, Horizon City Police Department officers and the City of Socorro Police Department already wear the cameras.

The traffic unit at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department has been using the cameras since 2008, and the rest of the patrol units began using them in 2016.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Whitten said the department got a bundle deal with a company called Axon for 250 cameras, unlimited data storage and 375 Tasers for $300,000 per year under a five-year contract.

Whitten said the sheriff’s department hasn’t had to hire staff to manage storage since it’s cloud-based. Deputies upload footage and the district attorney has access to the files.

“For us, it’s nothing short of fantastic,” Whitten said.

Horizon City Police Chief Mike McConnell said his department has been using cameras for about five years and houses data in-house rather than in a cloud-based storage system.

McConnell said the department is currently changing vendors to match its dash-cam system. That switch comes with a price tag of $23,000 for 13 cameras and a data storage boost.

“A high percentage of time … the video camera helps the officer. It doesn’t hurt because the officer should be doing the right thing. Under that theory, it should serve to help (police officers),” McConnell said.

Some area human rights groups argue that the cameras should be a priority for El Paso police.

“What I have seen with federal agents and border patrol and local law enforcement in the last few years is a rampant lack of transparency and accountability to the community,” Border Network for Human Rights Executive Director Fernando Garcia said. “We have been pushing to strengthen these internal accountability measures.”

Garcia said El Paso is one of the safest cities because area law enforcement engages with the community. He said body-worn cameras would strengthen that relationship by showing accountability and transparency.

Garcia said he was disappointed when the City Council voted to delete two items during the Nov. 28 meeting.

The first would have directed the city to seek funding or apply for a one-year state grant that requires a 25 percent match by the police department. The other would have formed a committee that would look into policies for cameras for the department.

City Council instead directed the police department to research the cost for the body cameras and the procedures for using them, a process that Assistant El Paso Police Chief Patrick Maloney said could take up to six months.

Officials said neither the city nor the police department has conducted any official studies on the cameras.

Maloney said the department looked into the grant in 2015 and 2016. He said there was not enough money in the police budget to cover the required match. The department has 1,037 officers, he said.

“To put personnel to task and with that amount of work to do a study (for something) in-depth like that when there’s no funding to move forward on it, doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Maloney said about why the department hasn’t applied for the grant.

Recently, at the request of the police department, the city’s purchasing staff got an estimate from Axon Enterprises, Inc. of Arizona for the potential cost of body cameras, including annual fees for the software license and data storage.

That estimate, which was not part of a formal bid process, was $2.7 million for 500 cameras under a five-year contract, Maloney said.

Axon, an Arizona-based company formerly known as TASER International, serves more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies, according to its website.

City Council will wait for findings from the police department before deciding whether to fund a body camera program, officials said.

Rivera said he wasn’t sure if funding for the El Paso police cameras could come from a tax increase, budget savings or a voter referendum.

But he said trust and accountability are the key reasons he is pushing for the cameras. He also said he believes it would reduce the number of lawsuits filed against the city and police officers.

“With the expenditure comes a cost savings in fewer lawsuits,” Rivera said. He added, “It’s time we start thinking outside the box to the get these things in gear.”

Figures for how many lawsuits have been filed against the El Paso police department were not available, according to city officials.

Martin said he does not think body cameras will reduce the number of lawsuits.

“I heard the same argument 15 to 20 years ago for dash cams, ‘It’s going to protect you guys. You are not going to get sued. Everything is going to get recorded,’” Martin said. “It didn’t reduce anything. It’s the same thing. We have dash cams in every single vehicle we operate in and we still get sued.”

A civil rights lawsuit against the EPPD filed in May claims police have used excessive force against people with signs of mental illness, citing several recent cases. The lawsuit filed by attorneys Enrique Moreno and Lynn Coyle claims that in the 15-year period from 1997 to 2012, there were 32 excessive force cases. That compares to at least 21 in just four years, from 2012 to 2016, the lawsuit states.

The suit cites the case of a suicidal man who died after police shocked him with a Taser in 2015; the fatal shooting of a handcuffed prisoner outside the Downtown jail in 2013; and the shooting of another suicidal man in 2016.

Moreno said it’s difficult to speculate after-the-fact whether cameras would have a made a difference in the litigation, but he believes that both citizens and officers would benefit from having them.

“I think there’s a growing consensus that they are beneficial from multiple perspectives, not just in terms of citizens, but beneficial to police themselves,” Moreno said.

Moreno said he doesn’t understand why the city hasn’t taken the lead in acquiring the cameras.

“I’m very troubled by the suggestion that there’s no money for it,” Moreno said. “When you look at cost, you have to consider someone losing their life. So cost is a much bigger concept than just the price.”

 

Elida S. Perez, El Paso Times / December 11, 2017, “Police Union Pushes Back on Body Cameras in El Paso, Texas”, http://www.govtech.com/public-safety/Police-Union-Pushes-Back-on-Body-Cameras-in-El-Paso-Texas.html