D.C. residents fought through tears Monday as they expressed frustration with the Metropolitan Police Department’s refusal to release video footage from body-worn cameras showing officers killing their loved ones.
“Receiving limited information regarding the Metropolitan Police Department killing my son on June 12, 2018, has been an extremely horrific nightmare,” Kenithia Alston said a D.C. Council roundtable review of the department’s five-year-old camera program. “I have suffered an enormous amount of anxiety, depression and grief all while advocating for public information.”
Ms. Alston said she has sought footage from the night her son, Marqueese Alston, 22, was killed because police were not giving her sufficient details about what happened. She was told that, because her son was older than 18, she could not be granted permission to view the video, although the law does not explicitly disallow or allow the parent of a deceased adult to view footage.
Ms. Alston said the department told her that “Marqueese could request the video,” which she called an “insensitive response.”
She eventually was granted access in August 2019 to view only a edited video of the shooting, but her request that the video be released publicly was denied.
“Marqueese’s daughter deserves truth as to what happened to her father when MPD killed him,” said Natacia Knapper, reading testimony from Alston’s aunt, Laurenda Craig.
Council member Charles Allen, chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said that if the point of the body-worn camera program is to improve accountability, trust and transparency, then the police department “should err on the side of releasing the video faster.”
Emily Gunston, an attorney at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the department “needs a more fundamental change, it needs to be reflexively transparent.” She encouraged the police to develop a policy for when releasing camera footage following an incident like an officer-involved shooting.
“It should tell the public everything it possibly can instead of everything it has to,” Ms. Gunston said.
Jay Brown told how his nephew, Jeffrey Price, 22, died after a collision on his dirt bike with a police cruiser. He asked that the council start doing random audits of body camera footage, allow Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners access to the footage and have a third party such the Office of Police Complaints be in charge of releasing videos to the public.
“We need to be able to have answers, without answers then we have chaos, and that’s detrimental to the safety of our community,” Mr. Brown said.
Nassim Moshiree, a policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C., pointed to a number of problems with the program, including allowing officers to view their footage before they make a statement on an incident, denying the use of fee waivers for requests for footage and the lack of meaningful consequences when an officer fails to turn on or obstructs the camera.
“Body cameras do little to restore trust because officers can continue to abuse their power with little consequences,” Ms. Moshiree said.
Stephen Bigelow, a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police, stressed the importance of not releasing video before an investigation is complete because of concern of privacy for witnesses and those involved in the investigation, and how releasing a video could negatively affect the adjudication process for officers who are being investigated.
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