After law enforcement officials fatally shot a black man in North Carolina last week, law enforcement officials pledged transparency. Few facts emerged, however – an information gap that aroused suspicion and, according to experts, helped fuel national outrage.
Andrew Brown Jr. was killed on April 21 when Sheriff’s MPs tried to execute search and arrest warrants related to drugs in his Elizabeth City home. Since then, despite requests from Brown’s family and mounting legal pressure, little official comment has followed.
On Thursday, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten released the names of seven MPs involved in the shooting, the most significant disclosure since the hours after the shooting. Four MPs are back on active duty after a review of body cameras showed they did not fire any shots, Wooten said.
On the details that have not yet been released: the footage from the body camera, a timeline of events, and a rationale for the recording. Wooten has repeatedly cited ongoing investigations as the reason for sparse details.
It’s a “recipe for unnecessary sharpness and conflict,” said David Snyder, the First Amendment Coalition executive director. Snyder said the case was part of a long-standing trend among law enforcement agencies “to stay secret for no good reason”.
Snyder criticized a law in North Carolina requiring a court order to release body camera footage – a law that allowed a judge on Wednesday to block the release of the footage to the media.
The lack of basic facts about the case provides an environment in which “misinformation and conspiracy theories” can thrive and “raise suspicions that they are inappropriately trying to create secrets,” said Snyder.
The Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that misinformation is being spread about the shooting and has set up a fact-checking page to present criticism of general narratives surrounding the shooting.
The clearest picture of the authorities’ report on the shooting came Wednesday when District Attorney Andrew Womble told a judge that a characterization made by one of the Brown family’s lawyers was false.
April 23:The North Carolina police promise transparency into the filming of Andrew Brown Jr., but no video with a body camera yet
Womble said the video shows Brown’s car making two contact with law enforcement before gunfire was heard. He also argued that videos should be kept away from the public while state investigators continue their investigation.
Harry Daniels, a lawyer for Brown’s family, declined that Womble cited a video in court that had not been released: “I heard statements: Well, (Brown) may have met the MPs. … Well, show us the video, ”he said.
Daniels said the family’s position was the same: “An innocent man was gunned down.”
While the Brown family’s lawyers have criticized the local law enforcement agency’s conduct of the investigation, peaceful protesters continue to flood the streets of Elizabeth City.
In the hours after Brown’s death, Daniels publicly pressured law enforcement to provide details, saying the family was forced to rely on speculation and eyewitness accounts to understand what happened.
These reports have shaped the public’s understanding of the case – more than if Brown had been killed by police years ago, according to Lauren Bonds, legal director of the National Police Accountability Project.
“People are more likely to trust a victim’s account or a victim’s family than in the past,” she said.
In the past, delays in making information available to the public have been viewed as part of a pattern of “law enforcement agencies and authorities doing everything in their power to isolate their officers,” Bonds said. However, a lack of communication by law enforcement agencies increasingly raises public suspicions and allows advocates of victims of police violence to speak out.
In general, according to Bonds, there are ways for the police to inform the public about the details of an ongoing case of violence without jeopardizing the investigation. Police do not need to produce a full account to inform the public – footage, data, video, audio, and raw data from body cameras can help prevent misinformation.
While it is not uncommon for body camera footage to be delayed after a police shootout, the cell phone videos are increasingly being used by bystanders to document police brutality.
“We got used to being able to see the tape right away,” said Snyder.
Philip Stinson, a former police officer and current professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, says the lack of details released at the time isn’t necessarily a sign that the police are blocking or trying to inflict excessive force cover up – it could be a sign of robust investigation.
“Every case is different – this one doesn’t make sense,” said Stinson. With video evidence, several MPs on leave, and widespread public attention, it is likely that the officers’ use of force will be under scrutiny, he said.
“Although we cannot show the public what just happened, the independent investigators are working to complete their investigation,” said Wooten in a written statement. “Once I have all the relevant facts given to me, I will act quickly to ensure accountability and I will be as transparent as possible to the public.”
Wooten said he was disappointed that a judge did not approve the release of the footage on Wednesday.
But after a year of protests against police brutality and in the days following Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd, many people are demanding more transparency from the police, John David, a strategic communications advisor, author and speaker. said USA TODAY.
“That just sounds like the same stuff we’ve been hearing for years,” said David. Such assurances do not “necessarily hold more water” in America.
Contributor: The Associated Press