A Superior Court judge is expected to rule Tuesday that the public should see nine additional minutes of footage captured by a camera worn by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer who fatally shot Danquirs Franklin last month. CMPD has filed a petition to release the footage, which follows the two minutes and 20 seconds of video released last Monday. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles says the full 11 minutes, which she and council saw a week ago, should be available to the public. Charlotte City Council members agree.
All of which seems to indicate that city leaders understand the importance of letting the public in on critical information about Charlotte news and issues.
But do they?
CMPD wants to fully release the Franklin video now, but it initially made available only the two minutes and 20 seconds of footage, which stopped shortly after Franklin was shot by Officer Wende Kerl.
The mayor says that “openness is our ultimate goal,” yet she said in a confusing statement Thursday that she and the council “inadvertently” were initially shown more of the video “than we should have.” The statement came three days after Lyles and council members saw the longer video and after the shorter video was released to the public. It also came only after reporters started asking questions about the missing footage.
City Council members also called for transparency regarding the footage, but like Lyles, they didn’t say so publicly until days after seeing the full video. Add it all up and you have public officials who talk about transparency but fall short when the moment calls for them to live up to their words.
That’s troubling, and it’s not new. In 2016, CMPD resisted releasing footage of the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, then made only two minutes available before bowing to public outcry and releasing the full footage. The mayor has had other issues with transparency — she, along with City Manager Marcus Jones, didn’t properly alert the public last year to a deep funding shortfall for the Cross Charlotte Trail.
The public deserves better, starting with clarification about the initial decision not to release the full 11 minutes of footage from the Franklin shooting. Was that call made solely by CMPD Chief Kerr Putney? Were Lyles and other city officials participants in the conversation? The mayor also should clarify what she meant when she said she and the council were “inadvertently” shown the full footage. Were they supposed to only see the shorter video? Was she OK with that?
Finally, Lyles and council members should explain why they didn’t speak up immediately when that shorter video was made available to the public. It’s not transparency if you open up only after reporters start knocking on your door.
There are challenging days ahead with the Franklin shooting, from larger questions about police policy and inequity in Charlotte to very specific questions about why there was no footage available from a second CMPD officer. The public needs to trust that in these difficult moments, it’s getting a full picture from public officials. That didn’t happen, again.