GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) – Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell appeared in court on Monday morning on an Order to Show Cause and Appear, after a WBTV reporter asked he be held in contempt for violating an order governing the release of police video.
The contempt motion was filed by WBTV’s chief investigative reporter Nick Ochsner. In his motion for the show cause order--the legal document by which one party asks a court to hold another in contempt--Ochsner cited Bell’s release of police video documenting a chase involving deputies from the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office that ended when the suspect they were pursuing hit two pedestrians, killing one and injuring the other.
Ochsner’s petition alleged that Bell released the video to two competing TV stations prior to the Sheriff’s Office releasing the video to Ochsner. The order, according to Ochsner’s motion, only authorized the Sheriff to release the video and stipulated that Ochsner, who petitioned the court for the video’s release, must receive the recordings before it could be released to any other outlet.
The video was instead released by Bell to two media outlets prior to Ochsner receiving a copy.
A law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2016 requires a court order before anyone law enforcement video can be released. And only then can the custodian of that video release it pursuant to the order.
In court on Monday, an attorney for Ochsner, Mike Tadych, argued that the order regarding the deadly pursuit did not authorize Bell to release the video and no other state law allowed Bell to release the video without a judge’s order.
Bell was questioned under oath during Monday’s hearing and testified that he believed he had the authority to release the video to whomever he wants but he could not provide a statute or case law that granted him that power.
The video in question from July 14 shows the moments after Gaston County deputies apprehended Joshua Soule, who is facing a homicide charge for striking and killing 28-year-old Antrel Garnigan during the chase.
Several people who witnessed the chase told WBTV and other media outlets that deputies had struck Garnigan.
Ochsner then petitioned the court for the release of the video and a judge ordered that the sheriff’s office would release it to Ochsner at 5:00 p.m. on August 23rd.
However, by noon on that day several other media outlets had obtained and published the video.
During his questioning on the stand Bell told the court that he had given permission to his assistant to release the video if other news outlets asked for it.
Bell admitted that the statute that governs the public petition for law enforcement video does not give him authority to release it.
However, Bell maintained that after decades of of acting as the District Attorney it was common practice to release video once it was in his possession as long as it did not infringe upon the rights of the victim or defendant.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Tadych told the judge that Ochsner would like for Bell to issue an apology and receive training on the statute that governs the release of law enforcement video. Judge Robert Bell, who presided over the hearing, said he would issue an order by November 1st.