Chief Putney emphasizes the importance of body cameras in improving community relations
Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones – who oversees the police department – has been silent on recent police shootings, and the city has sidelined him from viewing body and dash camera footage of the shootings until a judge releases them to the public.
City attorneys have interpreted a new state law as prohibiting the manager from watching the body camera footage, even though he’s the police chief’s boss.
One open government expert said that’s a mistake.
“The city manager ought to be able to look at it – especially when they are making decisions about the performance of the police chief,” said Jonathan Jones, director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition at Elon University. “I’m not aware of a city in N.C. where the police chief isn’t responsive to the manager – that’s their boss.”
Under a new state law passed last year, police body and dashboard camera footage was declared not a public record. The “head of the custodial law enforcement agency” could review the footage, but for almost anyone else, a Superior Court judge would have to release it to the public.
In a recent Greensboro case, Jones of the N.C. Open Government Coalition said the city decided that its manager – who is the police chief’s boss – could view footage from an incident of alleged police misconduct against a teenager, Jose Charles.
But Charlotte has interpreted the law differently, and believes that the city manager isn’t allowed to watch footage without a court order.
Corine Mack of the Charlotte NAACP has been critical of how police have handled confrontations that led to police shootings.
She said she believes Marcus Jones is the actual head of CMPD, and that he should be watching dash camera and body camera footage immediately after an incident. She said the manager has done a good job since becoming manager nearly a year ago, and his insight would be valuable.
“Marcus should be involved,” Mack said. “He’s the one who is responsible for running the city.”
Earlier this month, a judge ordered the release of body camera footage from the Sept. 6 shooting of Ruben Galindo, 29. He was shot after police responded to a 911 call he had made himself.
The video shows Galindo exiting his northeast Charlotte apartment with his hands raised above his head, three to four seconds before officers fatally shot him.
The video shows that after Galindo appears at his doorway, CMPD officers began to shout orders to drop his weapon, and a series of gunshots rang out. Galindo then slumped to the ground.
It was the city’s latest controversial police shooting and came nearly a year after the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, which prompted days of unrest that put Charlotte in the national spotlight.
CMPD did not challenge the request to release the footage of the shooting, which was made by the Observer.
Responding to the video last week, police Chief Kerr Putney told the Observer that videos never tell the whole story of what officers perceive at the time. Officers have limited options when facing a lethal threat, he said, and have to think about saving their own lives and the lives of others.
“I’m not going to second-guess how (officers) perceive a lethal threat,” he added.
Putney’s comment about not second guessing officers was criticized by the NAACP and the attorney for Galindo’s family.
Jones, the city manager, did not respond to questions from the Observer about whether he believes the police chief should question the decisions officers make when they perceive a lethal threat. Jones also didn’t respond to questions about whether he has watched the videos after they were released, or whether he attempted to watch them before the judge’s order.
City Council members have not commented in detail on the case. The city’s corporate communications department advised them in an email labeled “talking points” that elected officials should “respect (the) process and wait for all of the facts of the case to be reviewed before drawing any premature conclusions.”
The District Attorney is reviewing the Galindo shooting.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said attorneys for the police department, Mark Newbold and Judy Emken, believe that the city manager should not be allowed to watch footage from body and dash cameras.
He said the law was ambiguous, and that it’s difficult to know exactly who ultimately oversees the police department. Hagemann said it’s unclear if the police chief or the city manager leads the department. If it’s the manager, he said, then should the City Council be considered the ultimate head of the department since council members hire and fire the manager?
The General Assembly is considering a law – House Bill 797 – that specifically states that a city manager or town manager can view police footage without a court order.
Ron Carlee, the previous city manager, watched footage with former police chief Rodney Monroe of the police fatal shooting of Jonathan Ferrell in 2013. After Carlee and Monroe watched the dash camera footage of the incident, CMPD charged the former officer, Randall Kerrick, with involuntary manslaughter.
Jones became manager in December, less than three months after the Scott protests.
Since Jones became manager, there have been three fatal police shootings in the city, including Galindo.
Staff writer Jane Wester contributed.