WASHINGTON - A long running dispute over D.C. police body camera footage has finally come to a close. Attorney General Karl Racine has turned over five recordings FOX 5 has been asking to see since last September. The footage shows how police are using the cameras in their cases against suspected drunk drivers.
Defense attorneys have called them game changers. These videos show their clients’ behavior during an encounter with police. No longer are judges and juries relying on an officer’s description. It is all caught on camera and played for everyone to see.
In September of 2015, a D.C. police officer found a man sitting behind the wheel of a pickup truck parked in an alley.
Officer: "You are behind the wheel of vehicle with the keys in the ignition, you are in control of this vehicle.”
Man in truck: “I am not driving anything sir.”
Officer: “Are you not sitting behind the driver’s seat?”
Man in truck: “No I am not.”
Officer: “What is that? That's the steering wheel right?”
The man then slides over to the passenger side of the truck, gets out and begins to walk down the alley. The officers calls for backup. When police catch up with him, the man becomes combative and belligerent. As the officers investigate, they tell the man everything he has said has been captured on camera. Later, the incident ends in laughter among the officers at the scene.
In another video used in court, an officer tells a suspected drunk driver he has the right to refuse a breath test, but if he does the driver will lose his license for a year. The camera records his answer.
"Okay, I refuse,” he said.
Although these videos were introduced as evidence in a court of law, the attorney general initially said the public had no right to see them. Instead, anyone who wanted to see the evidence would have to get it through a Freedom of Information Act from D.C. police.
The court exhibits we requested were then turned over to FOX 5 with faces, information and even some audio redacted.
The position taken by the attorney general on this was noticed by the D.C. Open Government Coalition, which took up our case and convinced Racine he was wrong.
"Let's interpret it with common sense,” Racine told FOX 5. He added, “Candidly you were right and we were initially wrong.”
The attorney general now says all body-worn camera footage used in court will be made public upon request.
In the case of the man we showed you behind the wheel of his truck, he was sentenced to 20 days in jail. The man who refused a breathalyzer test was given ten days in jail.
All D.C. police officers working patrol are now wearing body camera. They are under orders to turn them on as soon as they begin an encounter with a member of the public.