KCBD INVESTIGATES: State law restricting release of footage from - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

KCBD INVESTIGATES: State law restricting release of footage from body-worn cameras

(Source: KCBD video) (Source: KCBD video)
LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) -

A criminal investigation is underway into who leaked police body camera video of a controversial Fort Worth arrest.

The video, now seen by millions, has sparked outrage across the country.

Because criminal matters related to the officer and incident were still pending with the district attorney's office, the City of Fort Worth was not permitted to release the video under state law.

This follows building tension between law enforcement and their communities across the country.

In 2015, Lubbock City Council voted to spend nearly $2 million in taxpayer money to equip every patrol officer with a body-worn camera. That purchase also included cameras for inside officers' patrol vehicles.

At that time, Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell and then Lubbock Mayor Glenn Robertson voiced their support for the purchase.

"It eliminates 'the officer did this to me, he did that to me' so we will have video of that," Powell said.

"It also adds an extra level of protection for our citizens. It keeps our law enforcement officers aware that everything that is going on is being recorded," Robertson said.

Now, two years later, while current Lubbock Police Chief Greg Stevens said these cameras are rolling, a recent state law is restricting how much access taxpayers have to the video recorded by the equipment they bought.

Just last week, on the same night, Lubbock police officers fired their weapons in two separate incidents.

One of those incidents was recorded on an officer's body camera; it is something Chief Stevens was asked about at last week's news conference.

"The Body-Worn Camera Law is a little precarious," he said.

"I would rather put out video than not and so let me do some research and make sure I don't run afoul of state law," he told the media.

Click here to see that state law.

Passed in the 84th legislative session, the law says video that captures the use of deadly force by a peace officer or is related to an administrative or criminal investigation of an officer may not be released to the public until all criminal matters have been finally adjudicated and all related administrative investigations have concluded.

"I understand the need to not release things prematurely, but there is also a big need when it comes to building community trust. It's often not enough for me to stand at a podium and say, this is what happened,' Chief Stevens said.

The law goes on to say that a law enforcement agency may release a recording to the public if the agency determines that the release furthers a law enforcement purpose.

"Is that giving too much power to the police department?" we asked.

"Maybe," Chief Stevens said. "The way I read it is, the legislation is saying you are not supposed to release this in deadly force situations until it's all over and one with. Now, if there is a bona fide law enforcement reason, then you can," he said.

"We really haven't found ourselves in situations like other parts of the country where there is really heated conversations about body cam video. If we were to find ourselves in a situation like that, do you think this law is restricting transparency?" we asked.

"I think it can, but I am going to defer back to the relationship that the police department has with the public long before those situations erupt," Chief Stevens said.

We followed up with Chief Stevens about releasing last week's body camera video.

He said he talked to the city attorney who told him it would be against state law to release the video at this time.

We do not know when or if we will see that video.

The incident involves an officer shooting at someone's tires.

While no one was injured by those shots, because deadly force was used, it falls under that section of the law.

The chief said since they do not need help identifying or locating anyone in the video, it does not serve a law enforcement purpose to release it.

The chief also said they are looking into purchasing more body-worn cameras for the department.

Copyright 2017 KCBD. All rights reserved.

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