A Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered Charlotte-Mecklenburg police to release video of the Sept. 6 police shooting death of Rueben Galindo – the first time a judge has said that footage can be released under a new public records law while an investigation is still ongoing.
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray has not yet decided whether to criminally charge the two officers involved.
The ruling was the latest test of a state law passed in fall 2016, which requires all requests for body camera and other footage to go through a court hearing before they can be released to the public.
The video will be released on Oct. 6 to local activist Robert Dawkins of the group Action NC and to Charlotte Observer investigations editor Doug Miller, who filed separate requests for the footage that were heard together in court Thursday. CMPD has said it will release the video publicly after Dawkins and Miller receive their copies.
Galindo, 29, had called 911 and said he had a gun but no bullets. A dispatcher told officers that a Spanish-speaking man had called and wanted officers to help him.
In previously released recordings of police radio released by CMPD, a dispatcher told officers that Galindo didn’t want to put the gun down and that he said it didn’t have bullets. A dispatcher and an interpreter worked together to talk to Galindo, who requested a Spanish speaker. They can be heard repeatedly asking Galindo to put his gun in a safe place and not to carry it with him when officers arrive.
When officers arrived, they ordered him to drop the handgun but he did not obey their commands, police said. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney has said the officers shot Galindo because they perceived an imminent lethal threat.
City of Charlotte attorney Jessica Battle said in court that CMPD did not oppose the release of the footage, but Assistant District Attorney Bill Stetzer and lawyers for the two officers involved in the shooting each objected to the timing of the release, asking Superior Court Judge Todd Pomeroy to wait until the investigation is over.
Stetzer and the officers’ lawyers said witnesses and future jurors can be tainted and confused by videos.
“I just don’t know when we decided to substitute transparency for due process,” said attorney Michael Greene.
Observer attorney Jon Buchan argued that the release would not harm ongoing investigations because there had already been time to interview the limited number of possible witnesses. He also said that should criminal charges be brought against the officers, a release would not harm their right to a fair trial.
Dawkins said members of Action NC have canvassed Galindo’s northeast Charlotte neighborhood and talked to people who want to see the video, which they hope will help clarify what happened the night Galindo was killed.
Much of the hour-long hearing centered on arguments by attorneys who referenced legal terms such as voir dire, the process of questioning potential jurors, and the evidentiary Rule 702.
When he finally stood to speak, Dawkins noted that he is not an attorney, and did not know much about Rule 702.
“But I do know the 704,” said Dawkins, referring to Charlotte’s area code. He said the people who lived there would be better informed about their police department if the footage were released.
In granting the release, Pomeroy said a good jury selection process can resolve the problem of people seeing the videos and speculating about the footage, should the case go to trial.
“I do believe it is the fair and just thing to do,” Pomeroy said as he announced his decision. “More importantly, I am following the law.”
Pomeroy asked CMPD to conceal the faces of children who appear in the video, which the department said it can do fairly quickly. Stetzer requested the Oct. 6 release date so he can have time to talk to Galindo’s family members, who did not oppose the release but asked to see the video first.