Police body camera video accessible to a few in South Carolina


MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Hundreds of hours of video are captured by body-worn cameras in South Carolina every day.

But in Palmetto State, the law only allows a privileged few to see it.

The state body camera law of 2015 paved the way for its widespread adoption. But one of the stipulations of the law said that the images from the body cameras would not be the subject of public registration requests. The then governor, Nikki Haley, said this would not hamper transparency.

“They understand more importantly, we have to maintain communication and transparency,” Haley said at the time. “What’s their job, they’re just trying to protect the evidence. That’s why FOIA became an issue, so we could protect the evidence and punish who needed to be punished.

But after five years, some are calling for this part of the law to be revisited so that the truth of an incident is more easily revealed.

RELATED COVER | South Carolina leads first, then lags behind with police body cameras

“Everyone is held responsible when the body camera is on,” said Marvin Neal, president of the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP.

Neal considers body cameras to be important devices in our time that protect both the police and the public. But access remains limited to those who were not directly involved in the video they capture.

“Dashcams, you can access it as a citizen. Body cameras, you can’t get them unless you have subpoena power, ”Neal said. “Unless you go to court or get a lawyer involved in the incident, that’s not going to happen. “

University of South Carolina law professor Seth Stoughton said body cameras may not fully offer the transparency the law enforcement community hoped to bring when the technology entered the scene over the past decade.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that if an agency gets body cameras to increase public confidence, but then refuses to show the video, except when legally required to do so – it doesn’t really help the public trust hurts public trust, ”Stoughton said.

As our In Focus series revealed, law enforcement agencies must create body camera policies consistent with guidelines set by the state’s Law Enforcement Training Council.

How a department decides who reviews its agents’ images, as well as how often, is decided on a department-by-department basis, which can be reviewed through their policies.

In the current state of things, the statute provides access to attorneys, other police departments (including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division), and the Attorney General’s Office for the cases they are working on. It is also up to these agencies to decide whether or not they choose to distribute this video to outside sources, such as the press or members of the public.

The Myrtle Beach Police Department told WMBF News in part in a statement, “Although body camera images are specifically exempt from broadcast under state FOIA law, they are subject to broadcast under rules of criminal and civil procedure or court order. The body camera images allow our department to review service calls, assess complaints and make recommendations for further training. We investigate every complaint we receive.

Horry County Police said in a post that the body camera video “is exempt from disclosure under state law, and the HCPD operates under that.”

Members of the public can request and receive the video if they are any of the following: a person who is the subject of the recording; a criminal defendant if the recording is relevant to an ongoing criminal action; a civil litigant if the registration is relevant for an ongoing civil action; a person whose property has been seized or damaged in connection with, or is otherwise involved in, a crime to which the recording relates; a parent or legal guardian of a minor or an incapacitated person referred to in the first two provisions; and a lawyer for a person described above.

Florence County Sheriff TJ Joye told WMBF News he showed up for his seat on transparency and that bringing body cameras to the sheriff’s office this year was a major part of ensuring that it happens.

As long as it doesn’t affect an investigation, Joye said he would post the video to let her speak for herself.

“Don’t try to hide anything, don’t try to buy time with this,” Joye said. “Put it on the table, that’s what it is. “

Fifteenth Circuit lawyer Jimmy Richardson said he appeared to be as transparent as possible with the press and the community, but it is also his job to ensure that a court case is not compromised so to preserve a fair trial.

“It would be so much easier for me to just put the video out, or just say, ‘Hey, so and so already admitted that,’” said Richardson. “But I can’t do this. Because this guy (the accused) deserves a fair trial.

Richardson said he has posted a handful of body camera videos in the past, but only after receiving a green light from a judge.

He also pointed out the existing double standard which Neal also commented on – body camera video is not subject to public recording, but dashboard video is (as long as it doesn’t interfere with it. investigation).

Stoughton agreed that the different sets of rules didn’t make sense.

“We end up with this weird mishmash that I don’t think is really defensible as a public policy issue. It’s sort of an artefact of the legislative process, ”Stoughton said. “But this is not a coherent public policy, which, I think, can be improved.”

However, when it comes to the level of body camera video that should be shown outside of what is currently available, everyone seems to have a different opinion. Stoughton believes the improvement doesn’t necessarily mean making the video wide open and available to everyone.

“I think there’s a lot going on that doesn’t necessarily need to be made public,” Stoughton said. “If the police come into my house because I am reporting a burglary or something, I don’t necessarily want the footage, the video of my house to be available to anyone who requests public recording.

House Bill 3665 would make a video involving an incident that resulted in the death of a public record in Palmetto State. Some South Carolina lawmakers who support the bill are hoping it will pass and pass successfully in the next session.

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