Judge Denies WFAE Journalist's Petition for Police Shooting Video

Nov 11, 2016

This week, WFAE’s Lisa Worf has taken listeners through the process of seeking a court order to compel Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department to release video of a police shooting. (Here's the story that aired before our court hearing, and here's the story that aired after the hearing).

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson denied our request. WFAE's petition was the first in Mecklenburg County under a new law known as House Bill 972. You can read Levinson's decision here.

Some backround: As of Oct. 1, it’s no longer up to police departments to release video. Instead, anyone who wants body and dash cam video released must go through the court system.

Lisa petitioned for video of a shooting that occurred in June. The case involves a man whom police say shot someone in the foot on a CATS bus. CMPD says officers Michael Bell and Garret Tryon saw a man fitting the description of the shooter walking beside North Tryon Street, and saw he had a handgun.  Police say  Rodney Rodriguez Smith fired at least one shot and the officers fired multiple shots, killing him. CMPD says Smith and the shooting victim on the bus knew each other.

The officers have been cleared by CMPD and are back on the beat, but the case remains under investigation by the District Attorney’s office. 

Lisa argued in court that it was in the public’s interest to release the video. Attorneys for CMPD, the district attorney’s office, and the two officers argued against our petition.

In his ruling, Judge Levinson said release of the videos before the completion of the criminal investigation would “create a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice.”

Lisa will have a followup report on the ruling next week. She intends to talk more to the attorneys who opposed her petition - all of whom have indicated they are willing to talk.

We'll also share what we learned from this process. In late September - after the police shooting of Keith Scott - we spoke to state Rep. Allen McNeill, the primary sponsor of House Bill 972. At the time, there were calls for CMPD to release all of the dash camera and body camera video of the Scott shooting. CMPD could have done so on its own (and eventually did so), since the legislation hadn't taken effect.  House Bill 972 was also getting renewed criticism.

MeNeill had no second thoughts about the legislation. He maintained police videos will be more accessible because the public will have an outlet to access dash cam or body camera video instead of being at the mercy of law enforcement officials.

WFAE's petition certainly got more attention than an open records request would have received, but we also found this isn't an easy process for the average person to navigate. And, it's certainly more expensive and time-consuming . We'll explore these points more next week.