Birmingham lawmaker proposes way for families to obtain police videos

Birmingham lawmaker proposes way for families to obtain police videos

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Following the shooting death of a man at Riverchase Galleria in Hoover last year, Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, says Alabama needs a process for families to obtain body camera and dash camera videos from law enforcement.

House Bill 36 would also establish a way to contest a refusal by law enforcement to release a police recording. The bill says recordings are not considered public record.

Givan told Alabama Daily News her bill is a result of Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr.’s Thanksgiving Day death at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall earlier this month said the officer who killed Bradford, who was armed, will not face charges because he acted reasonably under the circumstances. Police were responding to multiple shots fired and two victims. Bradford was not the assailant, but was confused for such when police saw him come toward one of the victims with a firearm in his hand.

The shooting resulted in weeks of unrest and several elected officials called for the released of related video.

Givan says refusing to allow families who are grieving the loss of their child to see evidence in their deaths is not right.

“Why should any family have to wait six, seven, eight or nine months until the investigation is over before they see some kind of evidence to what happened to their loved one?” Givan said.

Marshall on Feb. 5 released two 10-second clips from surveillance cameras at the shopping mall. The video shows an officer shooting Bradford from behind as Bradford is running. 

The report said that the officer told investigators that he did not turn on his body camera from standby mode because there was “no time.”

Marshall disputed assertions from the Bradford family attorney that body camera footage, which was not publicly released, showed an officer, or officers, pumping their fists over Bradford’s body, the Associated Press reported.

According to Givan’s bill, the law enforcement agency where a recording originated may only disclose it to: A person whose image or voice is in the recording, a personal representative of that person; a personal representative of a deceased person in the recording.

In deciding to release a recording, the law enforcement agency can consider whether its disclosure would reveal highly sensitive information or may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency won’t comment on pending legislation. In early December, an attorney for Bradford’s family said investigators allowed him and other lawyers to view a brief portion of video of the shooting. 

Marshall’s office also declined comment.

The proposed legislation says recordings aren’t public record as defined by current state law, but Givan said the intent is to make it easier for journalists to obtain video recordings.

Several media organizations in recent years have fought for police evidence in shootings.

The Decatur Daily in 2015 sued the Lawrence County sheriff after he declined to release documents, written and electronic, and audio recordings related to the shooting death of a resident.

Al.com in December reported that Huntsville City leaders refused to release body camera footage from a fatal police-related shooting there.

The lack of laws as current as the technology was another reason for creating the bill, Givan said.

“I’m still researching it, but there really is no protocol for this situation,” she said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alabama is one of 16 states without a law pertaining to body-worn cameras for law enforcement.

In Tennessee, law enforcement body camera videos of certain incidents or situations are treated as confidential and not subject to public inspection.

In Georgia, a law passed in 2015 establishes standards for releasing body camera footage.  Some of the exceptions are when the recording could invade a person’s privacy or if there is no criminal investigation pending.

There were 13 fatal shootings by police in Alabama in 2018, according to a database compiled by The Washington Post.

Shortly after Marshall’s announcement clearing the Hoover officer, U.S. Attorney Jay Town said the Department of Justice is now investigating the shooting.

The legislative session begins March 5.

Alabama Daily News Editor and Reporter Mary Sell contributed to this report.