CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The body-worn camera footage of Tyre Nichols’ beating at the hands of Memphis Police officers earlier this month may have been a tough watch. Still, few people could argue the release was not in the public interest.
“Anguish, heartbreaking, absolutely infuriating the people who–we empower, we give them a badge, we give them a gun. To abuse that power and kill a man, there’s no excuse for it,” said North Carolina Attorney General and recently announced gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein in an interview with Queen City News on Monday over Nichols’ death.
Friends, family, and the public wanted to know what happened. After authorities charged the five officers involved, police noted there was a right to now.
Public records laws in Tennessee allowed for the footage to be released. Specifically, body-worn camera footage is part of the public records laws in that state.
But in North and South Carolina, the footage is not subject to public records requests. And each state views the footage differently.
For instance, releasing body-worn camera footage in North Carolina requires a court order from a judge.
In South Carolina, the law provides discretion among law enforcement agencies, but with noted exceptions.
“I think we have to do it openly and transparently,” S.C. State Rep. Tommy Pope said. “But you have to keep it close enough to the vest to fully investigate.”
The York County Republican is also a lawyer and former prosecutor. Pope noted that while South Carolina’s laws are less stringent than North Carolina’s, it can sometimes take extra legal steps to get the footage released.
The public availability of body-worn camera footage is less of an issue of media access. People have requested the camera video for a variety of reasons. Those include questionable interactions with law enforcement, civil cases, a citizen’s request for more information for research purposes, and insurance inquiries.
“If I was a victim (or a subject or a defendant) and police have video of it, that’s one of the exceptions where it has to be turned over,” Pope said of South Carolina’s exceptions allowing for the release of body-worn camera footage.
Pope noted that the release of the Nichols footage might bring back the discussion in state legislatures on body-worn camera access and not just in South Carolina. Efforts have been underway for years to expand access to the footage in North Carolina, but have yet to meet with success.
Stein was unambiguous in his assessment of what he believes North Carolina needs.
“I believe we need to have more body cams, more dashcams, and they should be more accessible to the public,” said Stein.
Even though body-worn cameras are primarily the norm in many locations, it is not universal. Body-worn cameras are expensive, and many departments have only received the technology through grants.
However, Pope noted that, increasingly, body-worn cameras are becoming a necessary business expense for law enforcement agencies.