Trevor's Takes: May 2024

by Trevor Miles

Over the last several years in the US, law enforcement, criminal justice and public safety, and legal reform has been a hot topic, to say the least. In North Carolina, the law enforcement vs. criminal justice reform situation is further complicated by the fact that bodycam footage is considered de facto confidential information unless a judge determines otherwise. While many judges and law enforcement officers believe this is beneficial, or at least fight to keep the status quo as it protects them and preserves a system that shields them from accountability. I argue that it is actually detrimental to the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve, leading to a higher number of negative outcomes and crumbling trust in law enforcement by the public they claim to serve.

For instance, take the 2021 raid of Amir Abboud’s house in Raleigh. The police raided Abboud’s house looking for another individual who wasn’t even there (so much for good detective work) and then a judge, citing a lack of compelling public interest for the release of the video, decided that Raleigh PD could classify the video as confidential, and never have to release it. Consequently, I would argue that this further degraded the trust in both the judge and the Raleigh PD, who seem unwilling to acknowledge their error and obviously don’t care about transparency or fostering public trust.

In another example where the body cam footage hasn’t been released, but where there is cell phone video, we have Washington County deputy Jeffrey Edwards viciously attacking Gary Thomas Jr., then handcuffing and dragging him into the Washington County courthouse. Now, Deputy Edwards was fired from Washington County, he was not charged criminally, and at the time of the article was still employed with another NC law enforcement agency. Had there not been cellphone footage, would this incident have even been brought to the spotlight? Who knows.

And, of course, who in the LPNC can forget the case of Joshua Rohrer? Joshua, a homeless veteran, was assaulted by police for accepting a dollar from a passing car. When he did not produce his identification quickly enough for them (meaning he was getting it out for them, but they didn’t like it, two cops, Cierra Brooks and Maurice Taylor, tased him. They also tased his service dog, arrested Joshua, and held him for three days. When he got out, he put out a plea for someone to help find his dog. When he found out she had been killed by a car while returning to the spot she last saw him, as she was trained to do, he attempted to take his own life. We know all of this because we finally saw the body camera footage, nine months later, following relentless pressure led by our Governor candidate Mike Ross and the LPNC. In fact, when the courts first received a request to release the footage, DA Travis Page argued against it on the basis that it would prevent a fair trial – yes, he argued that the video of what happened would prevent a fair trial.

All this to say that, clearly, law enforcement in North Carolina are at least passively resistant to the idea of facing public accountability or having their actions stand up to scrutiny from anyone outside the police – because we all know how well it works when we investigate ourselves (it’s amazing how often they find no wrongdoing…). The judges in North Carolina seem to support them. There is no reason that body cam footage should be withheld from the public when a complaint of excessive force or ethical violations is made against a law enforcement officer, full stop. I say it’s time we let the barely elected representatives in Raleigh and their appointed bureaucrats in Raleigh know that we’re tired of them prioritizing law enforcement's ability to cover up their screw ups over the public's right to transparency (considering they just passed a law increasing their ability to avoid transparency, I am not holding my breath).

It’s time to change the body cam laws in North Carolina.

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  • Rob yates
    published this page in Trevor's Takes 2024-05-31 03:43:32 -0400
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