Prosecutors take opposing positions on police body camera footage used in court
WASHINGTON - Since last summer, FOX 5 has repeatedly asked to see D.C. police body camera footage used in court to convict drunk drivers, but the D.C. attorney general has refused to turn it over claiming the law is on his side. However, it is a claim that now appears to have fallen apart.
For months, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has been steadfast in his claim that we cannot see body camera footage used in court and if we wanted to see it, we needed to ask D.C. police for it.
We put Racine's claim to the test and made a similar request to the U.S. Attorney's Office asking for recent unredacted body camera video recorded back on July 31, which ended up being used in court for a conviction. This unredacted body camera video was turned over to FOX 5 without having to go through D.C. police.
This footage showed an incident that happened in the 3800 block of South Capitol Street in Southeast D.C. Prosecutors said two men got into an argument over who could drive into and out of a parking lot first. One of the men pulled a gun and when police arrived, there was some confusion - as you can see in the video.
The man in the car, who officers first suspect has the gun, is actually the victim in this incident. At the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office, we are not showing his face. The victim then points to another man, Roby Davis Jr., who police then quickly disarm and take into custody. He was convicted earlier this month.
"The fact the U.S. Attorney's Office is giving you the same material when you ask for it, that comports with standard public records obligations, and it shows that the MPD and the D.C. Attorney General's Office is deviating from the way that public records have to be handled," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard for the Partnership for Civil Justice, a non-profit legal organization.
In fact, when Racine refused to hand over the videos from five drunken driving cases, we filed a Freedom of Information Act with D.C. police asking for those same videos. In return, we were told by police they would be redacted, meaning we could not see them as they appeared in court.
"The point of the D body cameras is for transparency," said Verheyden-Hilliard, who has years of experience prying records away from the D.C. Police Department that it did not want to release. "It's a response to demand for police accountability and what D.C. is doing turns that on its head. They are basically seeking to take the police body camera footage and put it back into the shadows."
So far, despite months of asking, FOX 5 has been unable to see any of the videos we have asked for from either the D.C. attorney general or D.C. police.
On Wednesday, we reached out to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue and D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who has oversight of the police department and who helped write the body camera statute, for comment. But we have not heard back from them as of Wednesday evening.
However, a spokesperson for Racine told FOX 5, "The District's public-records statute clearly vests the Metropolitan Police Department and only that agency with the responsibility for receiving, processing, and responding to requests for body-worn camera footage."