A state Senate committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would require the release of police dashboard camera video in officer-involved shootings. The legislation is expected to reach the Senate floor Wednesday.
Under current law the release of the video can be kept secret if the investigating agency, usually the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), says its release may harm their investigation. Such a decision was made by SLED to hold up the release of video from the shooting death of a Seneca teenager in July 2015. SLED eventually released the video of Zachary Hammond’s death only after a solicitor determined the shooting was justified. State police have also refused repeated open records requests for the video of Justin Craven, a former North Augusta officer charged with firing his weapon into the car of an unarmed man following a chase in February 2014. Craven faces trial later this year.
State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said his bill would require a judge to make the final decision on whether video could be made public. The judge must cite clear and convincing evidence if footage could not be released, under the bill.
Martin said he believes that moving the release decision of video to a judge instead of a prosecutor would maintain a court case’s integrity. “It’s usually a family member seeking access to the video. Frankly that’s what prompted this bill,” he said, citing the Hammond case. “When it was ultimately released, it gave rise to concerns as to why it had not been released earlier.”
“The whole idea behind this, if I may as sponsor of the bill, is to put it in the eyes of an independent party,” Martin said.
Footage could be protected if prosecutors show it could jeopardize a fair trial, interfere with investigations or be an unreasonable invasion of a person’s privacy.