Facing criticism, CMPD defends release of shorter video from police shooting

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department withheld nearly nine minutes of footage that a body-worn camera recorded at a west Charlotte Burger King when an officer fatally shot Danquirs Franklin, City Attorney Patrick Baker confirmed.

CMPD on Monday released two minutes and 20 seconds of video captured by the body camera worn by Officer Wende Kerl, showing her fatally shooting Franklin on March 25. The video appears to end abruptly after it shows Kerl shoot Franklin, who then slumps over.

But at least 11 minutes of footage was recorded on Kerl’s camera. CMPD provided only two minutes and 20 seconds of that video to Mecklenburg Superior Court Judge Donnie Hoover, who held a hearing to discuss the petitions for release from three local TV reporters.

Asked whether more than two minutes and 20 seconds of video existed, Lt. Brad Koch told the Observer Monday: “All the video for this incident was provided to the judge.” He said Thursday that was not right and then asked that all further questions be submitted by email.

Public safety spokesman Rob Tufano told the Observer Thursday that CMPD provided only the two minutes, 20 seconds of video to the judge. At least one of the petitions asked for “all body camera video of the incident.”

The Observer filed a new petition Thursday for the rest of the video.

Narrow interpretation

The video provided to Hoover and released to the public ends abruptly as Kerl leans down toward Franklin, saying “I gotta pick up the gun,” about 70 seconds after she arrived at Burger King and 20 seconds after she fired two shots at Franklin.

Tufano told the Observer that the two minutes, 20 second video complied with the petitions from WBTV, WCNC and Spectrum.

Spectrum’s petition from manager Jason Hamorsky was the broadest. He asked for “all body camera video of the incident.”

Hamorsky was not named in the video release order from Hoover, because he did not come to court April 11. Tufano said CMPD did not know he’d be absent ahead of time.

“The video provided was responsive to all three petitions filed ... CMPD interpreted ‘the incident’ to mean the recording of the shooting as depicted in the 2:20 (body camera) recording,” Tufano wrote in an email Thursday.

WBTV reporter Nick Ochsner requested body camera video “in the moments leading up to, during and immediately after the shooting.”

Patrick Baker, the city attorney, said CMPD should have openly discussed the decision to release only two minutes and 20 seconds of the video.

“What does ‘immediately after’ entail?” Baker said. “If there is ... a justifiable reason to not release the full 11 minutes then (CMPD) needs to make the case.”

WCNC reporter Nathan Morabito asked for video from Kerl’s camera “capturing the shooting ... As well as any other CMPD officers’ (body camera) video that captured before, during and after the officer-involved shooting.”

Tufano said CMPD exceeded WCNC’s request by providing the two minute, 20 second video. Police say no other officers’ body cameras captured video before, during and after the shooting.

Police turned over the two minute and 20 second video to Hoover for his private review prior to the hearing. The judge’s review is a standard part of the body camera video release process under a 2016 state law, which requires video release requests to go through court.

City Council viewing

The longer version was shown to Charlotte City Council members before the shorter video was released to the public, Baker confirmed to the Observer in an interview after 11 p.m. Wednesday.

City officials will conduct a review to determine why the full video was not released, Baker said. He said he would make policy recommendations on how the city should handle similar cases in the future.

“I’m not sure why I’m being shown something that the general public is not going to see,” said Baker, who said he watched the video along with other city leaders. “I mean, this is the last thing we wanted. City Council has been very clear that they want to be transparent. It’s critical we get this right.”

It was not clear Thursday who participated in the decision to give only part of the video to Hoover. In a statement late Thursday afternoon, Mayor Vi Lyles said that when she and the other council members watched the longer video Monday morning, they assumed it was about to be released to the public.

“That was our intent,” she said. “Inadvertently, we were shown more of the video than we should have.”

Police Chief Kerr Putney filed his own petition Thursday to release the video through the courts, Lyles said, adding that city leaders aim for open communication.

Robert Dawkins, an organizer with the police accountability and transparency group SAFE Coalition NC, said CMPD’s failure to release the full video flies in the face of the department’s frequent discussion of transparency.

“It’s already so hard to get the information that if you then turn around and don’t give it, we’re back to square one on building the trust,” he said.

The final roughly nine minutes of video show Kerl’s initial reactions after firing the shots, City Council member Braxton Winston said.

Kerl is heard explaining to other officers why she shot Franklin, Winston said.

“She said, ‘I had to (shoot). He had a weapon,’” he said. “She was very concerned and affected.”

‘Compelling public interest’

Hoover ordered CMPD to release the short body-worn camera video over the objections of Kerl’s attorney and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office.

Hoover effectively ruled that there was “compelling public interest” that justified releasing the footage.

Putney told reporters Tuesday that there was other video that was being withheld because releasing it “would hurt the investigation.”

In a motion filed Thursday, WBTV’s Ochsner demanded a court hearing so CMPD Chief Kerr Putney can explain why he should not be held in contempt for violation of WBTV’s petition and Hoover’s release order.

CMPD endured harsh criticism in 2016 after the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. After initially refusing to release footage, the department made public about two minutes of video from a body camera and dash-cam recording. CMPD withheld nearly two hours of footage. CMPD later released the full footage of the Scott shooting.

This week, community activist Gemini Boyd said the release of only a portion of video available from the day Franklin died sows mistrust among community groups calling for increased police transparency and accountability.

“It really makes everyone very upset knowing that there’s more of the video to show,” Boyd said. “It’s like ... Jonathan Ferrell, Keith Lamont Scott — all these things that come to bat, full circle. Once again, we’re right back to this thing where we can’t trust the police or our local leaders about anything.

“Somebody, somewhere dropped the ball, and that’s who we need to know,” Boyd said. “Who dropped the ball?”

Raleigh-based First Amendment lawyer Mike Tadych said the reporters’ original petitions seem to be broad enough to cover the entire recording. Like anyone petitioning for the release of video, the reporters had to file without knowing what footage existed — whether it was a two-minute video, a longer video or multiple videos.

“I think you’ll hear that CMPD interpreted the petitions narrowly and thus only provided an abbreviated portion,” Tadych said. “I don’t think I want to be CMPD’s counsel when this inevitably goes back to court.”

Tadych also raised questions about whether it was legal for council members to watch the full video. There’s a pending amendment to the body camera law to allow that kind of viewing, he said, but it hasn’t been passed by the legislature yet.

Questions about medical help

Winston said he was troubled by the full footage in part because it does not show officers rendering medical aid to Franklin.

“I want to ask a lot of questions,” Winston said.

CMPD policy on medical aid after an officer shoots a suspect requires officers to take “any appropriate measure they are trained and certified to take,” in addition to calling for an ambulance.

Department policy outlines that officers “may” increase “observation of the subject to detect obvious changes in condition” and they may “apply any first aid they are trained and certified to apply.” The policy also says officers may “secure the scene to protect the subject from any further injury.”

In the video released this week, Officer Larry Deal is standing next to Kerl and is seen and heard using his radio to call in shots fired, just seconds after Kerl shot Franklin, and Deal says “I’m gonna need MEDIC now.” His call for Mecklenburg MEDIC appears to follow CMPD’s policy that officers must also immediately call for medical assistance “whenever deadly force is used against a subject and the subject is injured or the subject requests medical aid.”

Deal requested emergency medical aid for Franklin two more times over the next minute after the shooting, according to March 25 CMPD communications audio obtained by the Observer. In that audio, a CMPD communications worker confirms to the officers on scene that “MEDIC is en route,” approximately one minute after Franklin was shot.

It’s unclear exactly what time first responders arrived.

Winston said the first time Franklin is seen receiving medical attention is when paramedics arrive about the eight-minute mark of the video. Radio traffic between CMPD officers indicates Franklin was in an ambulance with first responders, leaving for the hospital approximately nine minutes after the shooting.

On Thursday, Mecklenburg County MEDIC confirmed it was dispatched to respond to Burger King at 9:06 a.m., approximately two minutes after Officers Kerl and Deal arrived and about one minute after Franklin was shot. MEDIC, though, refused to say what time paramedics arrived at Burger King or how long they were there with Franklin before leaving for the hospital. A spokesperson said, “We do not release response data or patient care information unless we receive a formal written request/release form from the family or subpoena.”

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