UNC Charlotte students appear before city council concerning police shootings
Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said no one on the City Council meant to hide any information last week, when council members saw nearly nine minutes of body-camera footage that were not released to the public.
Last Monday, the council saw an 11-minute video in the March 25 police shooting of Danquirs Franklin. Body-cam footage was supposed to go public soon after, following a court order from Judge Donnie Hoover. But only a two-minute, 20-second clip was released.
The reason for the discrepancy was still unclear as council members issued differing opinions during their Monday night meeting.
A judge will rule Tuesday whether or not to release more video. In a motion filed Thursday by WBTV’s Nick Ochsner, he demanded that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney explain why he should not be held in contempt for Judge Donnie Hoover’s release order and in violation of WBTV’s petition to see the video.
At the meeting, Eiselt said there was uncertainty over how the footage was supposed to be released to comply with a 2016 state law, which gives courts the authority to release such footage. As a result, she suggested, no one was sure of how the footage was supposed to be released.
“There might be bumps in the road as we figure out a process,” she says. “We’re learning as we go too.”
CMPD has released video through the court process for at least five fatal shootings, including Franklin’s, since the 2016 law went into effect.
But council member Braxton Winston called for a full repeal of that law. Although the law seems to give the courts control over what body-cam footage gets released, last week’s events proved this was not the case, he said.
“It was CMPD policy that CMPD’s lawyer, a city employee, determines what the judge actually got to see,” he said. “Are we supposed to believe that this is transparency?”
Winston alleged CMPD’s lawyers chose to hand over only two and a half minutes of the full video to Hoover, who later ordered that video released.
“That’s such a flagrant skewing of the evidence in this case,” Winston said. “An entity or lawyer who is truly committed to ensuring the transparency or accountability of our Police Department would have presented the full tape to the judge.”
Most other council members took a more muted response, with Ed Driggs going as far to praise Officer Wende Kerl, who fatally shot Franklin outside a Burger King on Beatties Ford Road. Kerl responded to the scene after two 911 calls had reported that a man with a gun was threatening people inside the restaurant.
Driggs said two questions were at play: Were the actions of the officer appropriate? And were those of CMPD?
“I believe the officer deserves some credit,” he said. “She went there with the intention of protecting people.”
Council member Dimple Ajmera, meanwhile, said the council should heed community members’ calls to push for a probe into the case by the State Bureau of Investigation.
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney has previously said his department has better investigative abilities than the SBI and other agencies, and thus conducts its own internal investigation for each police shooting. A criminal investigation is also conducted by the department, though the Mecklenburg County district attorney decides on charges.
Mayor Vi Lyles said those two investigations must run their course. And any changes to city policy, she said, must happen only after consulting with the community.
“What’s most important is that we talk about the process where we fell down and lost trust,” she said. “Sometimes, you do things with the very best of intentions, and it just doesn’t work out that way.”
“We have to understand that sometimes mistakes happen,” Lyles said.
Earlier in the meeting, UNC Charlotte student Shantinique Bright addressed the council, as a group of her classmates stood behind her with an NAACP banner. One of them held up a sign that read “Do I Deserve to Die?”
“We are here to demand accountability at the violence our citizens are facing at the hands of our sworn CMPD officers,” Bright said.
Ahead of the court hearing Tuesday, questions remain among community members about whether or not Kerl and other officers on the scene provided Franklin with any kind of medical aid.
Having viewed the full video, Winston suggested they had not.
“The public will see that so many of our community’s gripes of the injustices of police culture are on display,” he said. “Mr. Franklin did not receive the most basic acts of dignity at the time that he needed it the most.”
Staff writer Jane Wester contributed.