Reporter’s Notebook: Why I petitioned the court for video related to the shooting of Officer Jordan Sheldon

Reporter’s Notebook: Why I petitioned the court for video related to the shooting of Officer Jordan Sheldon
News of Ofc. Sheldon’s death hit particularly hard because it came on the heels of other recent, violent events; most recently, the shooting at UNC Charlotte. The last thing anybody wanted to do was absorb more tragedy.

Update 5/19/2019:

On Sunday evening, the Mooresville Police Department released additional details of what happened during the traffic stop that ended with Ofc. Sheldon being shot. As I have made clear from the start, I filed the petition for Ofc. Sheldon’s body camera video in order to get additional information about what happened during the traffic stop.

Early Thursday afternoon, I told the attorneys for the Mooresville Police Department that I would dismiss my petition if they would provide details of what happened during the stop prior to Ofc. Sheldon being shot. On Frday afternoon, their attorney responded saying the department would not make such information available.

Now that this information is available to the public, there is no reason to pursue the release of any portion of the body camera video at this time. We will continue to monitor additional reports and information about this tragic shooting as they become available in an effort to give this story the reporting it deserves.

I went to bed early on the night of Saturday, May 4, so it wasn’t until I woke up the next day that I saw the tragic news that Officer Jordan Sheldon had been shot and killed during a traffic stop.

That’s the kind of news that makes your heart stop.

That’s the kind of thing that you remember, days and weeks later, where you were, who you were with and what you were doing while you processed the news that another person died keeping our community safe.

News of Ofc. Sheldon’s death hit particularly hard because it came on the heels of other recent, violent events; most recently, the shooting at UNC Charlotte. The last thing anybody wanted to do was absorb more tragedy. But it would be an insult to the memory of Ofc. Sheldon—a man who gave his life protecting the public—to not cover the tragedy, even if it was another sad thing on the news.

People have different ways of responding to tragedy. As a reporter, I’ve often had to witness people grieving in times of great sadness: sometimes, they want to talk about a loved one they lost. Other times, the response is to get angry. Most often, it seems, the response is to say nothing.

Because I’m a reporter, my response to most trying times is to dig for more information; to help explain to other people what happened, why it happened and how—or if—it could have been avoided.

It’s an instinct I picked up in my own time of tragedy.

Thirteen years ago I got word that my dad had been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan while serving as a Green Beret. The grief that hit me, the time it took to process, the reactions of my family are things that I will never forget. In fact, the pain and loss are things I still feel from time to time even now, more than a decade later.

My reaction to my dad being killed in the line of duty was to talk. I talked with friends and family. I talked to reporters. To this day, I’ll share every detail I know about my dad’s death with anyone who wants to hear about it.

To me, talking about my dad—and other people like him who have heroically died protecting their fellow man—is the best way I know to honor a sacrifice I will never be able to repay.

And, so, after Ofc. Sheldon was killed, I did what I have frequently done: I started gathering information.

While my colleagues at WBTV covered community vigils, the funeral and other stories that come in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy, I was using my skills as an investigative reporter.

We received a number of calls, emails and in-person questions about what, exactly, happened between the time Ofc. Sheldon pulled over his would-be gunman and the time he was shot. Nobody has said. To be fair, there were more pressing questions at the time and other priorities to tend to at the time.

But my job is to put things in motion to get answers later. That’s why I decided to file a petition for video related to Ofc. Sheldon’s shooting.

Under the law, police video is not public. In order to get any video, you have to fill out a court-made form, file it at the courthouse and go before a judge and explain what you want and why you want it. There isn’t a lot of room on the form to get into details but it’s clear you have to be broad in your request for video (I learned that he hard way in a recent case where I sought video of an officer-involved shooting from CMPD).

Every other petition I’ve filed to get police video has been in times when it seemed police may have done something wrong. Frequently, people ask me why I never request video that might portray police in a positive light.

What better way to show the bravery and sacrifice of our law enforcement officers than show the moments before Ofc. Sheldon was killed and the response from his fellow officers, who quickly responded to render aid and search for a gunman on the loose.

There is no better way to show the public what law enforcement officers face on a daily basis than by showing them the selfless service from this tense and tragic moment.

At no point has it been my intention to get or publish the actual video of Ofc. Sheldon being shot and dying.

I made that clear from the first conversation I had with the Assistant Town Attorney for the Town of Mooresville. I reiterated that in response to a letter from the law firm representing the police department in this matter. And I’m trying to answer as many calls, respond to as many Facebook messages and reply to as many emails to explain that same thing.

That’s why I’m writing this Reporter’s Notebook, to set the record straight. I have no problem defending my request for video – that’s what reporters do. That’s why we have a free press in America; a free press my dad died to preserve and one Ofc. Sheldon died trying to protect.

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