San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis revealed local law enforcement leaders have formed a “working group” to formulate new policies for the public release of body camera video and other video evidence.
The discussion was spurred when local news outlets went to court to obtain surveillance video of a fatal Midway District shooting by a San Diego Police officer. The judge granted the media's request to release the video, and the DA's office made the video public at a news conference Tuesday.
Dumanis said prosecutors are bound by the law to protect the integrity of investigations, which she said generally prohibits them from releasing any evidence.
“But I also realize that times have changed,” she told reporters. “We live in a world where all kinds of video evidence is becoming more prevalent and it’s being shared in ways that go viral in minutes. We clearly need to re-evaluate when and how this kind of video is responsibly released.”
Dumanis said it’s an important and very timely issue because by the end of 2016, almost all law enforcement officers in San Diego County will be wearing body cameras. In response, the district attorney said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy and the DA’s office have already organized a working group to “update the protocol” covering the release of body camera footage and other videos. That group will include representatives from all local law enforcement agencies.
Dumanis said this group might include community members and journalists.
Dumanis said the members will discuss how to best release that video “in a timely manner” during an investigation.
She said there will be situations in which police and third-party videos will not be released, especially if, in the group’s judgment, it would prejudice an investigation or a potential criminal case.
“However, we also recognize that video evidence can aid the public in understanding why and how an officer-involved shooting occurred,” Dumanis said. “There must be an appropriate balance, and we would ask the community’s patience as we continue to work through these very difficult issues.”
The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties provided this statement about the announcement:
"The purpose of access to public records is to hold government accountable to the community. Given the extraordinary and deadly powers vested in law enforcement, that principle applies especially to police videos. It is therefore essential that community members participate in a transparent process to establish the protocol for disclosure of body-camera videos. To open that process is a first step toward building community trust in law enforcement, which is undermined by secrecy and exclusion."
On April 30, SDPD Officer Neal Browder fatally shot Fridoon Rawshan Nehad, 42, outside an adult bookstore in the Midway District. Browder did not have his body camera on, so investigators relied on surveillance video captured nearby to examine what happened.
The DA declined to file any criminal charges against Browder in Nehad's death.