Judge releases body cam video in tragic shooting of 6-year-old boy

Judge releases body cam video in tragic shooting of 6-year-old boy

A tragic criminal case in Louisiana demonstrates the power of police body cam video to affect the justice process. This week a Louisiana judge released video of the killing of a 6-year-old boy by two police officers at the end of a high speed car chase. When the officers opened fire, they didn’t know the child was in the back seat. But a viewing of the body cam video of a third police officer on the scene contradicted their claims that the suspect driving the car had just rammed them, and therefore posed an imminent risk, justifying the use of deadly force. The video shows that the suspect was actually stopped with his hands in the air, apparently surrendering, when police opened fire with a barrage of lethal bullets. The suspect was severely wounded, and the child killed. This key video evidence lead to indictments of the two police officers for second degree murder.

The death of an innocent child for any reason is tragic, but to lose a child at the hands of law-enforcement officers sworn to protect and serve the community is maddening. And incidents during which police officers seem to use excessive, sometimes lethal force in video recordings are appearing in the media more and more frequently. Some of these incidents even lead to prosecutions. Though most cops prosecute their duties honorably and effectively, within the limits of the law, video evidence from camcorders, dash cams, and now ubiquitous cell phones, and increasingly, body cams worn by the police officers themselves, have contributed to a growing awareness that cops sometimes cross the line, using inappropriate and even criminal levels of force during arrests and other interactions with the public.

Police are often resistant to wearing body cams. A police union in Boston, Massachusetts recently insisted that a pilot body cam program remain strictly volunteer, then encouraged its members not to join. However, these devices have provided crucial evidence that’s allowed prosecutors to make better decisions. The use of body cams should not only be encouraged, but should be mandatory for all police officers who regularly interact with the public and have a reasonable chance to make arrests. The devices can safeguard honorable officers falsely accused of brutality and other offenses, and bring to light the poor behavior and decisions of those officers who transgress. Either way justice is served.

There are of course privacy issues and related concerns to work out. Who views body cam video, and how frequently? Are officers allowed to view the video before making their reports? Are officers allowed to turn off their body cams at will, or should they constantly record? What degree of discrepancy between police testimony and body cam footage is required  to trigger an investigation, or warrant charges? When, if ever, should body cam video be released to the public? These questions are important, but intelligent people of good will can, with the right amount of inquiry and debate, answer them. The most important thing is to deploy this helpful technology as quickly and widely as possible, to aid police throughout the country, along with the rest of the criminal justice system, in their mission to protect and serve the people.

Learn more about this tragic case (CNN.com)


Photo: By West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom (Lapel cameras  Uploaded by tm) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Outcry as police pepper-spray an 84-year-old woman in her home

Outcry after police pepper-spray 84-year-old woman

An upsetting incident involving police has people angry, in Oklahoma and across the United States, as the video spreads virally. During a tense moment in the home of a suspect’s mother, police pepper-sprayed an 84-year-old woman. Many community members of Muskogee, Oklahoma are alarmed by these developments.

The woman’s son was chased back to his mother’s home, where he hid inside. The police burst in by breaking down the door, then tasered the woman’s son. But when the elderly woman refused to turn around as ordered by police, an officer pepper-sprayed her, and she fell to the floor.

The video is disturbing, and raises important questions. The mother and son are African-American, and police violence against members of the African-American community has been a major issue in the media, propelling the Black Lives Matter movement to a position of national visibility.

Would an 84-year-old white woman in similar circumstances have been treated differently? Many think so, and fear that this was an over-step of authority by the local police department, and an example of institutional racism. What if the woman had hurt herself seriously by falling to the floor? No effort was made to catch her fall, as revealed in the video tape. And elderly women are prone to osteoporosis, and a fall like that could have been debilitating and even fatal.

In addition, could a painful dose of pepper spray have serious health consequences for an elderly woman, who would be statistically more likely to suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular issues?  Though the police have to react quickly on the job, did this unarmed and frightened 84-year-old woman, in a room full of police officers, represent a threat significant enough  to warrant this extreme response?

The suspect was under control, and multiple officers were in the immediate presence of the small elderly woman. Frankly, it’s hard to see this incident as anything other than an over reaction by law-enforcement, at best, and a tragic example of racism at work in our communities, at worst. Fortunately this incident concluded without serious harm to the woman, or her son. It could have easily turned out differently.

Muskogee’s Chief of Police has released the tape showing the officers entering the dwelling, tasering the suspect, and ultimately pepper-spraying the old woman. The Police offers the video to the public as a sign of transparency, and seems to be willing to discuss the incident with reporters. The police are reviewing the incident. Will the police officer who pepper-sprayed the woman receive disciplinary action? Will the city make restitution to the woman for her suffering? Will the police department initiate new training procedures to minimize the chance that an incident like this won’t happen again? Time will tell, and the community of Muskogee is watching.

Watch video of police pepper-spraying elderly woman (Muskogee PD / CNN)


Photo: Muskogee PD / CNN (screen capture)