Body camera footage from an officer-involved shooting in 2014 was thrust into the state’s debate about the devices when the city of Greensboro opted to release the video this month.
The video, which shows Officer Tim Bloch shooting and killing a woman armed with a knife, shows how body camera footage can be central to the public debate about whether officers acted appropriately.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and other departments across North Carolina say body camera footage is a personnel record, preventing police from releasing the video to the public. Some footage can also be part of an investigative file, according to CMPD, further restricting its release. North Carolina law allows municipalities to release some personnel information to maintain public confidence.
Jonathan Jones, the director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, said the legal foundation for making body camera footage a personnel record is shaky. He said there’s no binding court case that says body camera footage is a personnel record.
Police departments are “saying these are a good tool for improving transparency and improving trust and accountability,” Jones said. “So if this is a personnel record, then that completely undermines that initiative. Take that entire argument, ball it up and throw it in the trash. ...They want to be able to release the video when it serves them well and be able to withhold it when they’re concerned it’s going to cause unrest in the community.”
Earlier this month, Greensboro City Council approved the release of Bloch’s body camera footage that shows his encounter with Chieu Di Thi Vo in March 2014, shortly after the department got body cameras.
In the Greensboro case, Bloch shot Vo four times while responding to a fight at the Aberdeen Townhomes on Pineland Street, according to the Greensboro News and Record. Bloch said Vo shouted in Vietnamese while coming toward him with a butcher knife.
He has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Guilford County District Attorney’s office, but he resigned from being a police officer in December 2014.
He did, however, give his approval for Vo’s family to see the body cam footage. After watching it, Vo’s family told reporters the footage conflicted with the police narrative of what happened in the shooting. Vo didn’t lunge at Bloch, they said, and the officer was too far away for the woman to pose a threat.
“We did not see Chieu Di lunging at Officer Bloch,” the family wrote in a public statement. “We did not hear Chieu Di yell anything in Vietnamese. ... From the five to six times that we watched the video ... it appeared that Bloch stood approximately 10 to 15 feet away from Chieu Di and only waited for a couple of seconds before he started opening fire on her.”
Those statements led to the council’s decision to release the footage as a means to justify the department’s decision to not punish Bloch, according to the News and Record.