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27 Apr, 2017 21:44

Body cam footage withheld in 3 Baltimore County police-involved shootings

Body cam footage withheld in 3 Baltimore County police-involved shootings

Baltimore County police – an early adopter of body cameras spending $12.5 million of taxpayer money in the name of transparency – is withholding footage in three police-involved shooting incidents.

County police shot six people in four separate incidents since January, killing two of them, according to the Baltimore Sun, which first broke the story.

Body cameras captured all of the shootings but footage has only been made available in one case. Police said the other cases are still been investigated, or the county prosecutors have told them the footage is evidence in upcoming trials.

"Release could compromise the prosecution and the defendant’s right to fair trials," Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said in a statement to the Sun.
Armacost said those releases were quick because there were no charges against a suspect.

The missing footage involves three incidents.

In March, two officers investigating a convenience store robbery in Woodlawn shot a vehicle rushing towards them killing a 20-year-old, and injuring two others.
On April 12, police shot a 27-year-old man suspected of breaking into cars in Parkville who police said reached into his waistband.

Nine days later, an officer shot a woman who was a passenger in a stolen car that was being pursued by police.

The department first deployed body cameras last July, with the promise of a gradual rollout through December 2018, after fast-tracking $12.5 million program to equip officers.

The program was accelerated after a series of shootings, including the fatal shooting of Korryn Gaines, 23, and the wounding of her 5-year old son in August 2016 during a standoff in Randallstown. The shooting was not recorded. That led to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and then-police chief Jim Johnson to speed up the program.

Currently about 550 of the county's 1900 officers have body cams. More than 1,400 are to have cameras by the end of this September.

Kamenetz wouldn’t comment on the lack of transparency but his spokesperson, Ellen Kobler, said he had been clear from the beginning “that footage from police body cameras has been and will continue to be released without delay as soon as it can be determined that the release of the footage will not compromise an ongoing investigation.”

The police previously released footage from a case in December when an officer shot and wounded a man who had opened the door of his apartment carrying a knife and saying “Time to die! Time to die!”

County prosecutors ruled the shooting justified.

In another incident in January, footage was released of a police officer fatally shooting a man who had threatened his family and who had raised a “powerful scoped rifle” as an officer was talking to him.

Kamenetz then replaced Police Chief Johnson with Terry Sheridan, who had previously been the chief.

Armacost said there had been no change in policy since Sheridan took over.
The ACLU of Maryland called attempts to withhold the footage “concerning.”

“Despite lip service being paid to transparency and accountability, both their policies and in their actions, what we are seeing is the opposite,” said David Rocah, an attorney with the organization. He said the footage means “we don’t simply have to take officer’s word for what happened in particular situation.”

Cole Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said he’s not in favour of video footage being released to the public before an investigation is closed.

“I think everybody should be cautious about just looking at…one particular piece of what happened,” he told the Sun. “Body camera footage is one piece of information that is captured as it related to an entire incident.”