An Unlawful Delay

937

During last night’s city council meeting, council member Fran Griffin asked police chief Frank McCall about the status of releasing Ferguson body camera video to the civilian review board. McCall led with a cursory recognition that under our policy, footage must be turned over to the CRB within 48 hours. But he hastened to add that other departments are not bound by our policies. That, of course, is true. But it has no bearing on the release of footage from all Ferguson officers who were present at this incident, from the first dispatch to Carson Road, through the final investigation on Tiffin.

Chief McCall proceeded to suggest that because St. Louis County Police was investigating the officer involved shooting, Ferguson footage was now under the control of county, and we were prohibited from releasing the footage until the county investigation was complete. We don’t know whether this position originated with McCall, or if he was acting on the advice of city attorney Apollo Carey, who declined to offer an opinion on the situation during the meeting. But we do know this: the county did not prohibit Ferguson from releasing our footage, to the CRB or anyone else. We know this with certainty because we asked them, in the following correspondence. First, our request to the county:

I’m the editor of the Ferguson Observer, and am working on coverage of the officer involved shooting which occurred on Tiffin Avenue in Ferguson. As you may be aware, Ferguson PD is bound by a consent decree with the DOJ. As part of that, a civilian review board was created, and charged with a variety of responsibilities, including reviewing body camera footage of certain incidents.

The civilian review board has placed a request for footage with the Ferguson PD. The policy requires that footage be released to the board within 48 hours. The board is an entity of city government, so this is NOT a public release. The city has declined to release the footage, and says that county PD prohibits it. So here’s my question: Has county PD, or any other entity of the county, ordered Ferguson not to release body camera video from Ferguson officers to the Ferguson civilian review board? I understand that Ferguson PD has neither access to nor the authority to release body camera footage from other agencies that were involved. I’m specifically interested in whether county is prohibiting Ferguson from providing their own video to their own civilian review board.

Nick Kasoff
The Ferguson Observer

The county’s response, from Sgt. Tracy Panus of their Public Information Office, was brief and to the point:

So we now know the truth: Chief McCall, either on his own initiative or on the advice of Mr. Carey, has refused to comply with one of the most important accountability provisions for his department. This unlawful delay by our city’s chief law enforcement official must end immediately. If Carey provided the opinion, he should contact McCall and offer the opinion that immediate release of the video to the CRB is both authorized and required, as the 48 hours has already passed. And if McCall did this on his own initiative, he must immediately change course.