Crime & Courts

Weeks after controversy over Danquirs Franklin video, CMPD officially updates its policy

Weeks after the discovery of unreleased body camera footage of a west Charlotte police shooting raised questions about Charlotte-Mecklenburg police transparency, the department published a new section of its body camera policy detailing the updated release process.

In response to petitions, CMPD will turn over “all (body camera) recordings leading up to, during, and after the incident” to a superior court judge for private review, according to the new policy.

In at least two recent cases, CMPD turned over only short clips of body camera video for judicial review. The Observer drew attention to the existence of more video in the police shooting of Danquirs Franklin after a longer video was shown to City Council members.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney eventually testified during a hearing on the issue that “dozens” of videos exist from the Franklin shooting. The Observer has filed a petition for their release, and a court date has not yet been set.

Raleigh-based First Amendment lawyer Mike Tadych, who represented WBTV reporter Nick Ochsner during that hearing, said the new policy hopefully signals the end of CMPD’s practice of narrowly interpreting petitions for body camera video.

“I think they’re trying to address the concern that I raised in the hearing — that it’s not for law enforcement to decide what will be released, it’s for the court,” Tadych said. “And I think Judge Bell also said that not providing all the information ties the court’s hands. So I certainly think they’re trying to address this. It probably could use some clarification.”

Tadych said only time will tell how CMPD puts the new policy into practice. He pointed out that the new policy uses a variety of words — including “recordings,” “video,” a “packet” and “footage” — to describe CMPD’s collection of body camera recordings.

“The precision is a little off,” Tadych said.

Putney officially approved the new policy last Friday, public safety spokesperson Rob Tufano said.

In practice, the department began turning over more videos to the court in mid-April, before the new policy was formally approved, police spokesperson Sandy D’Elosua Vastola said.

CMPD released a clip of body camera video from the police shooting of Michael Daniel Kelley on April 24, in response to a petition filed by the Observer in January.

Sixty-eight more videos exist from the scene where Kelley was shot, D’Elosua Vastola said. The Mecklenburg County district attorney’s office has ruled that CMPD officer Timothy Kiefer, who shot Kelley in a west Charlotte parking lot, will not be charged.

CMPD filed a petition on April 23 to release more video in the Kelley case. D’Elosua Vastola referred to the department’s new policy while explaining the reasoning behind that petition.

“We changed the policy last week, that we’re going to be giving the judge all videos,” she said. The Observer immediately requested a copy of the policy, and at the time, D’Elosua Vastola said it was still being revised.

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