Changes to N.C. body camera proposal

The earlier version of Senate Bill 300 would have changed the process of viewing body camera footage of the incident for families of people killed or seriously injured by law enforcement.
Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 7:14 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - In the earlier version of Senate Bill 300, families of people killed or seriously injured would have been able to view body camera footage of that incident within five days, unless law enforcement can prove to the judge it needed to be redacted.

Current law requires a court order to release the body camera footage.

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously in May but was rewritten after law enforcement, including the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, reviewed it.

Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck said the text changed to where the matter would automatically go to a court where a judge would decide.

“It takes the burden off of the family to have to file for the action,” Buck said. “It creates an automatic process and when the family requests to see the footage, then it automatically goes to the court and then all parties have the opportunity to come in and be heard.”

Buck said if a law enforcement agency or the district attorney’s office had a reason that they didn’t want the footage disclosed early on, then that would be requested and it would still be up to the judge to make the determination.

“These videos are evidence,” Buck said. “Someone else may be in the footage, something else may be done somewhere to where disclosing that even to a family member or representative could potentially be harmful to the investigation. Transparency is key, and we all want to work towards that and maintain that, but in the same time we want to make sure we don’t do anything that would be detrimental to an investigation or a potential prosecution.”

On Wednesday, the bill cleared a House committee and the body camera section was removed.

However, Sen. Don Davis (D-Greene, Pitt) said it’s still a process despite the back and forth. Davis’ focus is to make it easier for families to view the footage with a set date in mind.

“What I think is important is to continue to chart a pathway for families that’s easy and families know there’s a day certain they’ll be able to view the video,” Davis said. “We do support having it clear, made clear that families have a right to this, allowing the law enforcement officers to take it to a judge and for some reason, there was something that they thought would jeopardize the investigation or so forth, but it would provide at least assurance to the families that hey, we should see it within a reasonable amount of time.”

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