Baltimore County withholds body camera footage in three police shootings

In the most recent shooting, on April 21, an officer shot a woman who was the passenger in a stolen car that was pursued by police in the Windsor Mill area. Nine days earlier, an officer shot a 27-year-old man suspected of breaking into cars in Parkville who police said reached into his waistband.

And in March, two officers investigating a convenience store robbery in Woodlawn shot at a vehicle rushing toward them, killing Rashad Daquan Opher, 20, and wounding two others.

Armacost said Sheridan was unavailable to be interviewed for this article. The spokeswoman said the department treats body camera footage “as any other public record, subject to release as long as there are no investigatory or legal exceptions.”

She said there has been no change in policy since Sheridan took over. The department has always planned to make case-by-case decisions on releasing footage, she said.

The chief and County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger have been discussing the issue and are strongly considering allowing people to make arrangements to privately view video footage even when it is not publicly broadcast, Armacost said.

Shellenberger said he has always felt footage that could be used at trial should not be released to the public because it “could potentially taint a jury pool.” He also believes it should not be released before an investigation into a police shooting has been closed.

Shellenberger’s office has ruled that the Woodlawn and Overlea shootings were legally justified. Prosecutors have not yet received evidence from police from the two shootings this month, he said.

County Councilman Julian Jones, whose district includes communities where two of the shootings this year took place, said while he has confidence in the police to make the right decisions, he believes generally that body camera footage should be released to the public.

“The citizens, for the most part, have a right to know,” said Jones, a Democrat from Woodstock. “We should make every attempt to release the footage as soon as possible.”

He said given the cost of the program to taxpayers, “they have a right to see.”

“The bar should be high for them to say ‘no,'” Jones said.

Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, said she believes police benefit when they show the public such footage.

“I think it creates more credibility on the part of police departments when they really own up and release that footage,” Snyder said. “It’s in the public interest to better understand how the community is being policed.”

The press association advocates for its member newspapers, including The Baltimore Sun, on First Amendment and other issues.

Cole Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said he doesn’t like to see video footage released to the public before an investigation is closed.

“I think everybody should be cautious about just looking at … one particular piece of what happened,” he said.”Body camera footage is one piece of information that is captured as it relates to an entire incident.”

Baltimore and Baltimore County are the only large jurisdictions in the Baltimore area that currently have police cameras. The city of Laurel police department has had them since 2013, and other jurisdictions are weighing them.

Public information laws in Maryland give law enforcement agencies broad discretion to withhold investigatory records, Rocah of the ACLU said.

“The question of whether its legal is one thing; the question of whether it’s right to withhold it is something else,” he said.

Article Appeared @http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-co-body-cameras-20170426-story.html

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