San Diego Police Department

Critics Question Motives Behind Edited Incident Footage Released by Police

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By law, police departments in California are required to release video of shootings, and other incidents when police cause quote "great bodily harm," within 45 days.

One such instance was June 27, 2020, in Downtown San Diego. Police shot and killed a robbery suspect they say had a gun.

Protesters showed up demanding justice and misinformation swirled on social media, according to San Diego Police Department Lt. Shawn Takeuchi. Takeuchi said he remembers the unrest.

“We had protesters calling us crooked killers and racist cops,” said Lt. Takeuchi.

SDPD -- with surprising speed-- released video of the deadly June shooting at 6th Avenue and A Street a day later, but it wasn't the raw footage.

SDPD paid Critical Incident Video about $5,000 to produce the nearly 12-minute, edited piece. Some question whether these videos are edited in such a way that would paint the law enforcement agents involved in a positive light.

Former reporter Laura Cole, owner the Vacaville, California-based company, said editing is necessary to provide the public the proper context.

“I believe it's irresponsible for law enforcement not to provide context," explained Cole.

Community activist Tasha Williamson was among the protesters that night after the June shooting. She argues the only context that's needed is provided in the raw footage.

“I would say that if, indeed, they want us to have a full picture they would release all unedited versions of the videos that we requested as a people, and they would stop trying to paint a narrative that makes them look good,” explained Williamson.

In Lt. Takeuchi's eyes, “It’s not about painting a police department in a positive light. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s not meant for people to make decisions like that. The intent of these videos, again, it’s state law."

When AB 748 went into effect in July of 2019, Cole started Critical Incident Video.

"You have to present the facts. That is what these videos are about," explained Cole."

From 911 calls, to witness statements and pictures of weapons filed as evidence, Cole said she asks police departments for all their footage in order to tell the full story.

"We're finding those key moments that are of community interest to make sure that it's in there. Again, I understand why the community would have concern about an edited video. That's not what these are. These are videos with context and the context here are the facts surrounding the case."

While Cole admits departments do have final approval, she said she has removed her company from a project that didn’t focus on transparency, doubling down on her stance that her videos are not made to sway public opinion.

AB 748 does not require all digital evidence be released within 45-days, so the police department is well within the law. But there is another law, SB 1421, that requires departments to turn over all raw video.

That will likely happen once the full investigation is finished.

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