Residents and W-S City Council members express frustration over body camera laws

Christel Blackwell advocates for the release of body cam footage during Monday’s Public Safety Committee on May 14. Photo by Todd Luck

Residents and W-S City Council members express frustration over body camera laws
May 17
13:09 2018

Residents and City Council members expressed their frustrations with the state’s body camera law during Monday’s Public Safety Committee meeting on May 14.

The law, preventing release of police body cam footage without court order, has once again become a local issue as many are calling for the release of footage from a recent deadly police shooting of an African-American man by a white officer.

According to a Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) release, Officer D.E. McGuire was conducting a routine traffic stop on a car with Edward Van McCrae and two other adults in it on March 30. McCrae reached toward a concealed area of the vehicle and the officer repeatedly told him to stop. After being removed from the vehicle, McCrea physically struggled with McGuire and a handgun became visible to the officer. When McCrae reached for the gun, McGuire fatally shot him.

Following standard procedure, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NCBI), WSPD Criminal Investigations Division and WSPD Professional Standards Division are all investigating the incident. It’s standard practice not to release body cam footage until an investigation is over so not to bias the outcome.

However, current state law now requires the city or anyone else who does want to eventually release the footage to go before a Superior Court judge. During a discussion going over the body cam law during the committee meeting, there were concerns that a judge could potentially prevent its release even after the investigation ends.

“The courts could hold it indefinitely,” said City Council Member John Larson.

Comments from local residents echoed those concerns.

“I would find it to be a shame and a sham to have cameras that we can’t see,” said Christel Blackwell, who’s currently a student at Winston-Salem State University.

The Winston-Salem Journal has already been to court to try to get the tape released, but was opposed by Forsyth County prosecutors and a lawyer representing McCrea’s family. The judge denied the Journal’s request, citing the ongoing investigation. The judge, prosecutors and family lawyer all said they were open to it being released later.

The city had no problem getting a judge to release body cam footage from a traffic stop that went viral last May when an officer arrested a young African-American woman. However, no injury or death was involved in that incident.

The last time body cam footage was released due to a death of someone in WSPD custody was after Travis Page became unresponsive and died while being arrested in December 2015. It took until March 2016 for the investigation to be complete and for Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill to release the footage and autopsy results, which showed no wrong doing on the part of the officers who tried to revive Page. This was before the current body cam law went into effect in October 2016.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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