Crime & Courts

Video from second officer could shed light on deadly shooting. Where was his camera?

When Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Wende Kerl shot and killed Danquirs Franklin at a northwest Charlotte Burger King in March, her body camera recorded it.

The officer standing next to her, Larry Deal, did not record a body camera video of the shooting, even though CMPD officers are required to wear and use body cameras.

Video from Deal’s body camera may have provided information about Franklin’s final moments. He appears to have a more direct angle to watch Franklin’s behavior as officers first arrive, and Kerl herself would likely be visible in footage from his camera.

CMPD released a portion of video from Kerl’s camera on Monday, in response to court petitions from local TV reporters. It was only two minutes and 20 seconds long.

Her body camera video recorded at least 11 minutes of footage altogether, the Observer has previously reported. Public safety spokesman Rob Tufano told the Observer on Thursday that CMPD interpreted “the incident” as the two minutes and 20 seconds of activity immediately surrounding the shooting.

Kerl fires her gun 20 seconds before the end of that video, and as the clip ends, she is leaning down toward Franklin and saying “I gotta pick up the gun.”

Tufano said Thursday that no body camera or dashboard camera captured the moments before, during and after the shooting aside from Kerl’s. Deal’s chest is briefly visible at the end of Kerl’s video, and the spot where CMPD officers typically wear their body cameras appears to be empty.

Some body camera models are worn elsewhere on the officer’s body, but police have refused to answer questions about Deal’s camera use. They say CMPD’s internal investigation, one of the two investigations launched after each police shooting, is still ongoing.

“If you don’t have your body-worn camera on, that’s a violation of policy and a serious violation,” CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said at a breakfast forum Tuesday morning. “What I can tell you is one body camera was working. I can’t talk about the rest, because that’s gonna be investigated.”

Putney refused to specify what discipline measures might be taken when an officer doesn’t wear a body camera, and CMPD’s 20-page body camera policy does not detail the penalties.

Deal’s lawyer Michael Greene declined on Tuesday to comment on Deal’s body camera use.

CMPD’s 20-page body camera policy is clear that patrol officers and sergeants should wear the cameras whenever they’re on duty. The cameras “shall be turned on and activated to record prior to arrival to any call for service or any (crime-related) interaction with citizens while on duty” or while working off-duty, the policy says.

CMPD’s body cameras have a 30-second buffer function that saves video, but not audio, of the period before the officer pressed the record button. Kerl’s video captures about a minute of her drive to Burger King, showing that she turned her camera on prior to arrival.

Dan Lawrence, who is a senior research associate at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and has a PhD in criminology, law and justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago, said officers generally develop the muscle memory to turn on their camera when they’re about to interact with someone.

“It would be very odd, if they have a policy that officers are required to wear body-worn cameras, that the officer wasn’t wearing a camera at all,” he said. “I mean, it’s part of their tool set. They have their belts ,they have their gun, they have their handcuffs ... it’s part of their uniform.”

Lawrence said he also finds it strange that CMPD released such a small portion of the video in response to initial petitions.

“If the department was trying to alleviate any concerns surrounding jury pool selection and getting public sentiment to change, it just seems odd to me that they would release the actual shooting event, which is obviously going to have the most impact in that regard, but not the followup conversations between officers and other things,” he said.

Body cameras were rolled out to all CMPD patrol officers in fall 2015, at a time when many departments nationwide were buying the cameras. Then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the cameras could make communities safer by improving transparency and accountability.

The city has spent more than $6 million on body cameras in the past five years, including docking systems and software, according to city records. The cameras automatically upload video when they’re docked at the end of each shift, and officers can view and categorize the videos through a smartphone app.

Robert Dawkins, an organizer with the police accountability and transparency group SAFE Coalition NC, said the lack of video from Deal is troubling.

Dawkins is eager to find out whether Deal or his supervisor made a mistake, since patrol officers are always supposed to have functioning body cameras.

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Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.