Rarely does someone start his day hoping for a law enforcement encounter, especially one that escalates to a use of force by an officer. If you (or a loved one) do have the misfortune of experiencing the use of excessive force by police in Georgia, it is important to know how police body camera footage could help prove your case.
Police Body Cameras in the News
The case of Paul O’Neal, a Chicago teenager killed by police, shows how body camera footage can help prove use of excessive force. In 2016, police were attempting to stop O’Neal, who was allegedly driving a stolen car. Body camera video released by the police department showed officers started firing shots at the car O’Neal was driving. An officer fired at the car as it was driven down a narrow street in a residential neighborhood. After O’Neal wrecked the car into a police cruiser, he ran from the police. Body camera videos show officers continuing to shoot at O’Neal, who was unarmed. One of those bullets fired struck O’Neal in the back and, later, killed him. After the body camera footage was released, the officers involved were removed from duty and recommended for firing. But, what if this happened in Georgia?
How is Body Camera Footage Obtained in Georgia? (Georgia Open Records Act)
In Georgia, the Open Records Act requires the government to allow inspection of, or make copies of, records in its possession when someone makes a request. Records take the form of documents, electronic messages, handwritten notes, databases, video, or any other existing form of information. (Body camera video footage would be included in the definition.) Though the Act requires the government to share almost anything in its possession when requested, a narrow group of exceptions to what the government must share exists. (Most of the exceptions have to do with protecting individual privacy.)
The exceptions to mandatory disclosure include records (in this case, body camera video) in the possession of police departments that are a part of an ongoing criminal investigation. So, even if someone makes a proper request for the body camera video, the police department can refuse to release the video, if the department claims there is an ongoing investigation. An investigation is considered ongoing if a case has not been officially closed either by the department or by the prosecuting agency.
What does this exception mean for a victim of the use of excessive force? It means that, unless the agency feels that making the body camera video available is in their best interest or the public’s best interest, the victim will have to file a lawsuit in order to get access to the video.
How Can Body Camera Footage Help Your Case?
In the O’Neal case, the body camera footage showed that the officers who first fired shots were wrongfully and dangerously firing at the teenager. Because the department released the video, the O’Neal family was able to show the world that the teenager’s death was the result of excessive force by the police. Likewise, if an agency in Georgia is willing to release body camera video (or, any other video, such as dashcam video), the video may prove a victim’s injuries were the result of excessive force. Without video or independent witnesses who were not a part of the police encounter, a victim may have a hard time proving that the police officers were wrong in their use of force.
If you or a loved one have been the victim of the use of excessive force by police in Georgia, please contact us to find out how we can help you seek justice and accountability.