Legislative leaders ‘talking about’ police video law in wake of Elizabeth City shooting

Law enforcement video law in North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Leaders in the North Carolina Senate are warming up to the idea of revisiting the state law that makes police video secret. The conversations come in the wake of a deadly police shooting in Elizabeth City last week.

Andrew Brown Jr. was shot by deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office while sitting in a car in the driveway of his house. Deputies were trying to execute a search warrant for Brown’s house and an arrest warrant to take Brown into custody at the time of the shooting.

Calls came almost immediately in the wake of the shooting for video of the incident to be released. But North Carolina law prohibits the release of police video without a judge’s order.

A judge ruled Wednesday that a coalition of media outlets did not have standing to seek the release of police video – despite a provision in the law that says otherwise – and denied a request by the sheriff to release the video.

Instead, the judge ruled the sheriff could show the video to Brown’s family and the video may be released in 30 to 45 days.

Attorneys for the media coalition have indicated they will appeal the judge’s ruling.

On Thursday, State Senator Danny Britt (R-Robeson) stood by the law in an interview with WBTV.

Britt chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would take the lead on drafting any changes to the current law.

“I think, based on what we’ve seen, it’s working,” Britt said.

In fact, Britt said the fact that a hearing was held days after a petition for the video’s release was filed was faster than lawmakers had intended when they wrote the current police video law.

A number of state leaders have called for the video’s immediate release, including Attorney General Josh Stein and Governor Roy Cooper.

The chairwoman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Bobbie Richardson, has also called for the video’s immediate release. Richardson voted for the current law that makes police video secret when she was a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

Through a spokeswoman, Richardson declined to answer questions on camera for this story but issued a statement.

“The vote in 2016 was based on the hand we were dealt, and a result of a compromise on behalf of both parties. But clearly there is still more work to be done,” Richardson said.

“I support the legislation that Democrats have put forth this session to increase transparency and improve trust between law enforcement and communities, both of which are critical in these types of situations.”

The statement did not elaborate on why she had to compromise on that legislation, nor did she explain who making video not subject to the public records law was a compromise for transparency.

Similarly, a spokeswoman for Cooper refused to answer questions on Thursday about why his administration’s policy towards police video is at odds with his recent calls for video in the Brown shooting to be released.

As governor, Cooper oversees the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement agency.

In February, an SBI agent shot and killed someone after a standoff. In 2019, a state trooper shot a driver who pulled a gun from his glove box. The state agencies did not ask a judge to release video in either case.

Nor did the Highway Patrol ask a judge to release video involving two troopers who were ultimately indicted for using excessive force in the 2018 case during the arrest of an unarmed man in Wake County.

In the wake of Brown’s shooting, Britt said lawmakers have begun discussing whether changes need to be made to the law.

“Based on the attention that this matter has gotten, that is something that we’re going to be having some deep conversations about,” Britt said.

“It’s going to be something that we’re really going to have to dial in and look at the issues after we see them out.”

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