Tag Archives: body cam

A Real-Time Reminder of the Value of Police Cameras

I was able to get back into a courtroom for a socially distanced trial this week. It was my first since the pandemic hit, and quite a different experience, between physical distancing and the clear face masks that were provided so that we could see the faces of the jurors and the witnesses. We got a not guilty verdict for my client’s DUI, which was a huge win for him, and a relief to be able to move past the case now that it was done. And it was made easier for us since there was no video.
I’ve talked about the failure of many law enforcement agencies to provide regular video recording of their citizen interactions and arrests, including just recently. Many times, the video would assist the government in their prosecution of the case. That’s particularly true in DUI cases, where the only form of proof is the officer’s testimony about their subjective opinion about the performance on field sobriety exercises. Jury’s expect that evidence, and defense attorneys hammer the absence of video (or often, any corroborating evidence to the opinion testimony.)
In my trial this week, there were several jurors that indicated during jury selection that they would WANT to see video evidence. While the ones that said it out loud may have been struck from the panel, there were likely jurors selected that had a similar, unstated desire to see video evidence as well. After all, jurors want as much evidence as possible, and prosecutors want as much evidence to introduce to help prove their case. There’s a concern that a video might not support an officer’s testimony, but if that’s the case, we shouldn’t be prosecuting those cases. For instance, on a DUI case, if the video doesn’t help the impairment case, prosecutors can know which cases should not be taken to trial before they drag a panel full of jurors in for the day, particularly during a pandemic. 
Frequently, there are disputes between different versions of a story by witnesses on a case. Often, there is a discrepancy between what an officer says, and what the Defendant or his witnesses say about the details of a case. I suspect there is a thinking that it is beneficial for law enforcement not to create video, so that it is harder to challenge the officer’s version of events; the reality is that many disputes would be settled by the video. Disputes in evidence lead to more hearings and trials to settle the disputes, where a video is usually the best qualitative evidence that could be presented. The lack of video hurt the state’s prosecution in this case, and I have several other cases that are still pending because we don’t have video to resolve the dispute in facts. 
I feel like I do an “all cops should have videos” blog post nearly annually here, and several of our local agencies have added body cameras (Fort Myers and Cape Coral police both have done so). But the majority of law enforcement officers in Southwest Florida still do not have body or even car cameras. And defense attorneys like myself are going to keep hammering the issue in court, and jurors are going to keep being surprised that videos are not readily available in the year 2020. 

Making the Case for Body-Worn Cameras

I have repeatedly recommended the adoption of body-worn cameras for law enforcement. It’s a win-win situation. There’s never a problem of having too much evidence. Having active cameras can only help get to the truth for police-citizen encounters. The body cameras cut both ways, and do not favor a party who’s statement does not line up with the video… the video favors facts.

Body worn cameras would be beneficial in the recent Los Angeles shooting of Dijon Kizzee. L.A. deputies claim that he dropped a firearm and was picking it up when they shot him. However, they did not have body cameras. The only video was earlier by someone with a camera phone and that footage only shows Kizzee running away. We don’t know what happened that led up to the moment of the shooting, and if deputies had bodycams, that might have given us an answer. It certainly would be beneficial to the Sheriff’s Department if they had body cameras that showed Mr. Kizzee reaching for the weapon. Departments have resisted using body cameras when so often, when the officers are acting appropriately, the cameras would be for their protection. Admittedly, there are flaws: the cameras don’t catch everything, but that’s not a reason not to try to get video.

Sarasota is considering body cameras for their police force. One of the concerns is the expense. The Herald-Tribune ran this editorial last week, arguing that the cost is worth it to acquire body cams. The editorial also ran here in Fort Myers the other day- Fort Myers and Cape Coral do issue body cameras, though the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has not. The Charlotte County Sheriff has recently reconsidered his stance, and will now be seeking body cameras for his department. I applaud this decision and encourage other law enforcement agencies to join CCSO, FMPD, CCPD and many others in outfitting their officers with this important equipment.

Again, be sure to check out the editorial: https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/opinion/editorials/2020/09/15/police-use-force-can-lessened-body-cameras-if-done-right/5790554002/

Body Cam Footage Released in St. Paul Police Shooting

It’s incidents like these that leave me astounded that not every police and sheriff’s department provides body cams to its officers. A week ago, a St. Paul police officer shot and killed Ronald Davis, who the officer said had attacked him after Davis rammed the officer’s patrol car. Protesters took to the streets to call for justice, though dispatch audio indicated the officer shouting “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” It was poised to be another touchpoint for a story about a black man being killed by a police officer, and several people claimed they didn’t believe the official story that Davis had a knife.

The video was released Tuesday, and it’s dramatic. The officer gets out of his car after he’s struck, and is immediately set upon by Davis. The video shows Davis attacking the officer, knife in hand, knocking him to the ground. The officer gets up and tries to get away, with Davis continuing to pursue him. The officer shouts for him to drop the knife, and ultimately fires when he fails to comply. The video shows that the officer had a grave reason to fear for his safety, and conclusively shows that his actions were justified. Why Davis attacked him is unclear, and the loss of life is certainly a tragedy, but the video gives a lot more insight into what happened, and prevents a false narrative from going any further. I would urge all law enforcement agencies to follow this practice, and supply body cams and other recording devices for officers.

You can watch the video but are forewarned that it is violent and contains mature content:

 

Video from DUI Arrest at the McDonald’s Drive Thru

christopher bidzinski

Christopher Bidzinski

ABC-7 tracked down the body cam video of the guy who passed out in the McDonald’s drive thru a few weeks ago. It is his third DUI arrest in the last three years. Employees called cops after Christopher Bidzinski fell asleep in the parking lot, waiting for the food he had ordered. When officers arrived, he told them to take him to jail, and at one point, attempted a cartwheel while officers were trying to conduct field sobriety tests. The entire interaction with the cops was caught on bodycam, and even they can’t help laughing.

Not only does Bidzinski have his own arrests, it appears he was struck by a vehicle a couple years ago while crossing the street when he was intoxicated. It’s clear he has a major alcohol problem: he tells the cops that he deserves to go to jail. He’s been in for three weeks right now, and some time in jail is a major part of getting him sober, but punishment alone is not enough: he will need major, long-term counseling help to stop being a danger to himself and to others.

 

Video Exonerated Another Officer

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Ashley Bills

Ashley Bills was arrested this week after she tried to defraud her friend. She claimed a deputy tried to extort money from her, or that she’d be arrested. The victim gave her some money, but when she tried to mooch some more, he called a lawyer. The lawyer was worried about police misconduct, so the FPMD pulled the tape! The video showed that Bills was making the extortion claim up, and she ended up getting arrested.
The video is evidence that helps us find justice…

UPDATE: corrected to indicate it was FMPD that pulled the tape, and solved the crime! Good job.

FMPD Ought to Release the Video of the Questionable Search

News reports have surfaced this week that people are accusing FMPD officers of an improper, invasive search. Michael McDonald was pulled over by officers, who say they smelled a strong odor of marijuana. They sought to search Mr. McDonald, and gave him a pat down. Officers indicate they felt something that felt like a baggie, and that when they asked McDonald about it, he became “very uncooperative and hostile” toward officers. However, they also indicate that he admitted that it was a bag containing marijuana.

michael mcdonald

Michael McDonald

Mr. McDonald then agreed to retrieve the marijuana, and handed it to officers. They patted him down again, and felt something else concealed in his pants. And that’s where things started to go really wrong.

Officers say McDonald did not respond to their commands, They say he tried to kick an officer in the face (leading to a felony charge for resisting with violence). Officers literally held his legs down. They physically spread his legs and cut his underwear to recover baggies containing heroin and cocaine from inside his undergarments. He alleges that they further probed his rectum with a finger during the search.

When NBC-2 first aired the story, they included a response from Chief Eads, who indicates he has seen both the cell-phone video, and the officer body-cam videos and that no cavity search occurred. I said, hey, that’s a great reason for officers to wear body-cams… so that if they are accused of something they didn’t do, the video evidence can exonerate them. I think body cams will be more of a help to law enforcement than a hindrance.

Then, NBC-2 reported the following day that they have made a public records request for the videos, but the police department has refused to release them. That’s a bad look, FMPD. If the video shows what you say it shows, then RELEASE THE VIDEO!

FMPD told NBC they weren’t releasing the video because there is an ongoing criminal investigation (which is an exception to the Sunshine Laws on public records). That sounds at least a little questionable, as Mr. McDonald was arrested and charged that day: which was 2 weeks ago. It sure sounds like they are claiming that an investigation is ongoing, to avoid releasing the video. Again, bad look FMPD. If the video exonerates your officers, release the video! Don’t make excuses.

Seriously, the news story might be over by now if the video proves that the officers did nothing wrong.

There still may be an issue with the way the search was handled, even if there was no cavity search. While an odor of marijuana gives officers sufficient probable cause to conduct a search, and search that involves removing or arranging clothing to “permit a visual or manual inspection” of private areas is governed by Florida’s strip search statute,Fla. Stat. Sec. 901.201. That statute says that such a search must be conducted “…on premises where the search cannot be observed by persons not physically conducting or observing the search…” The fact that such searches are being performed in public, on the roadside, in full view of people with camera phones, does not sound like it is in compliance with the statutory strictures. Of course, we’ll have a better idea when FMPD releases the video.

NBC has also reported on a similar incident involving an allegedly invasive search, also on video, just a few weeks prior and only a short distance away from Mr. McDonald’s search. As a criminal law practitioner, I have seen cases where officers just grabbed people shorts and pulled them down on the side of the road, so there may be a policy training issue with local law enforcement (it is not limited to FMPD). Or maybe not. Maybe they have done nothing wrong, as the chief said. Many of these questions will be answered when they meet their statutory obligation under the Sunshine law to release the video. If it’s bad, don’t cover it up. If it exonerates the officers, the city should want the video released!

A look at some Pros and Cons of Police Body Cams

body camThe AP took a nice, in-depth look at both sides of the body cam issue. We here at Crimcourts are still firmly of the opinion that the pros far outweigh the cons. The story is worth a read.

Inside look at Cape Coral police body cameras

The Cape Coral Police Body Cams are active- NBC-2 takes a look:

Inside look at Cape Coral police body cameras.

Cape Coral Considers Purchasing Police Body Cams

According to Wink news, Cape Coral is considering purchasing body cams for the police department.

Crimcourts recommends the cameras, for the quality of law enforcement and for the protection of officers. The people of Cape Coral will benfit from this kind of expenditure.

Cape Coral PD to get Body Cams

Cape Coral has approved the purchase of body cams for Cape Coral police officers. It’s a $300,000 purchase, but it will improve law enforcement and help protect officers. That’s a good move for the city and the people of Cape Coral. They hope to have the cams up and running by next summer.