WASHINGTON - There is new information in a FOX 5 investigation of D.C. police body camera footage and how it is being used in court. This all began last summer with a simple request to see police body camera video used in court to convict drunk drivers. Defense attorneys were calling them "game changers." However, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia refused to turn them over, telling FOX 5 they were not part of the public record and that we should ask the police if we want to see them.
After months of asking, police body camera footage recorded during five drunken driving arrests has finally been turned over, but all redacted. The footage was given to FOX 5 after we filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see it back in September.
However, the video is hardly a representation of what you would have seen in court. Police officers’ faces, badges and nametags are obscured. Radio transmissions have been covered with tone.
Perhaps the most puzzling of all is the fact the person who was tried and convicted is now anonymous. Their faces have been obscured and there is nothing in the footage indicating who they are.
Back in September, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine spoke on why he didn't think the footage was part of the public record.
“In addition to the statute, there are actual cases, D.C. Circuit [Court] cases that talk about the privacy rights that people have not withstanding the fact that they were involved in a public court process,” said Racine.
Since then, FOX 5 has been unable to find a single lawyer who agrees with Racine.
Even the U.S. Attorney’s Office, at our request, handed over police body camera footage used in court for a gun conviction. No faces or audio were obscured and we did not have to ask the police.
When we asked D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser last week about this, she sidestepped in directly addressing the issue.
"We have a pretty specific way that we release body-worn camera and I think we work very hard and there was a lot of back and forth, a lot of negotiation about what the law would say as it relates to when we release body-worn camera,” said Bowser. “My particular view is that we want the video footage to make it safer in the District of Columbia for the police to do their work and for communities to have confidence in police actions.”
In recent months, we have also asked Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the D.C. Council as well as Kenyan McDuffie, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, for their positions on the issue and they have remained silent so far.
After seeing the redacted videos, we asked Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety for the District, why the footage given covered the faces of the officers and the suspects. He replied in part:
“The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has the most transparent body-worn camera program in the country. It is the result of a nationally recognized law signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser that allows footage to be released to the public through a FOIA request - even when the person requesting the footage does not appear in it.”