Attorney General Says Texas Cops Can View All The Camera Footage They Want Before Being Questioned

from the no-reason-to-trust-them-then dept

Body cameras on cops are, generally speaking, a good idea. Anything that opens up law enforcement to a little more scrutiny is better than the alternative, even if body cameras contribute more to accountability in theory than in actual practice.

But just as soon as some cracks appear in the wall of opacity, legislators and government officials rush in to patch them. Multiple state legislatures have discussed bills making body camera footage immune from public records requests. In other states, the recordings are presumed untouchable until the legislature says otherwise.

Public access isn’t the only issue to be considered, however. Just as important is officer access to camera footage when faced with accusations of misconduct or abuse. The Dallas PD already took the state’s lack of firm guidelines to grant its officers privileges it would never extend to citizens accused of criminal acts. Dallas police are given 72 hours to get their stories straight before being questioned about officer-involved shootings. They are also given access to all video recordings of the incident before being questioned.

The state attorney general has now expanded the Dallas PD’s ad hoc rule to every law enforcement agency in Texas. [h/t Grits for Breakfast]

[AG Ken] Paxton’s opinion follows a September request by Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson to clarify the sweeping body cam law the Texas Legislature passed in 2015, which entitles officers “to access any recording of an incident involving the officer before the officer is required to make a statement about the incident.” As Johnson’s office told us at the time, some Texas police departments interpreted that to mean officers could review only their own body cam footage before going on record, which civil rights groups like the ACLU still criticized as “poor investigative practice” that police would never use on other suspects. Others, including the Dallas Police Department, put that policy on steroids, allowing cops to also review the body camera footage of every other officer who was on the scene before giving a statement, according to Johnson’s office.

This interpretation — which gives law enforcement officers access to all recordings of an incident before questioning — was supposed to resolve a supposed prosecutorial dilemma. According to Johnson, prosecutors dealing with accused officers were having problems with testimony, considering it all could have been made up on the spot once the footage was reviewed. The dilemma was that cops were considered less trustworthy with a policy like the Dallas PD’s in place. Even if officers weren’t recalibrating their reports to match viewed footage, the public perception was that they were.

Instead of recognizing the problem and addressing it, AG Paxton has made it worse. Every officer accused of anything gets a few days and all the footage they need to address allegations. No criminal suspect has ever had the luxury of viewing all available evidence before even being charged. Cops, however, are special. So special their testimony should be viewed as suspect in cases where they’re accused of misconduct. AG Paxton may think he’s protecting cops, but he’s actually undermining the public’s steadily-diminishing faith in their public servants.

Paxton has chosen to make this a legislative problem, assuring it won’t be addressed for several months. When it is finally addressed, lawmakers will be besieged by police unions and law enforcement reps who are willing to sacrifice officer credibility to protect them from accountability.

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Comments on “Attorney General Says Texas Cops Can View All The Camera Footage They Want Before Being Questioned”

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Special Privilege

“…willing to sacrifice officer credibility to protect them from accountability.”

Until these practices are repudiated by legislators, senior LEOs, and cop unions, the most reasonable response to all criminal jury trials involving police officers is prejudiced jury nullification that convicts all cops.

The corollary for non-cop civilians accused by cops is that the non-cops are all not guilty.

Brooklyn says:

Re: Cop Privilege

well, jury nullification can only work if there is a jury trial.
cops are rarely prosecuted by their team mate government prosecutors… and jury trials are very rare for anybody.
those rare juries are carefully screened by judges and prosecutors to up front eliminate any independent thinkers.

your cure for government corruption can not work — the current court system is heavily rigged against it.
put your thinking cap back on and analyze the problem.

lotsa luck waiting for honest ‘legislators, senior LEOs, and cop unions’ to ever show up.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cop Privilege

those rare juries are carefully screened by judges and
> prosecutors to up front eliminate any independent thinkers

I recently served on a jury in a criminal case and was very surprised I made it onto the jury, considering I’m both a law enforcement officer and an attorney. I would have thought either one of those alone would have been an automatic disqualifier, but the judge just asked me if, given my occupation, I thought I could fairly evaluate the testimony of police officers without automatically giving it any more or less weight than anyone else’s testimony. Neither the prosecution nor the defense asked me any questions at all.

And the judge herself, in her ‘Welcome to jury duty/It’s your civic duty speech’, mentioned that she just got done serving on a jury herself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Special Privilege

most reasonable response to all criminal jury trials involving police officers is prejudiced jury nullification that convicts all cops.

Nullification, by definition, cannot be used to convict someone. That would be the exact opposite of nullification. The same principle applies—a juror can’t be punished for whatever decision they make—but unlike nullification, the decision can be reversed without constitutional problems. If it even gets to a jury, which it rarely does.

Anonymous Coward says:

the Flynn Effect?

I can’t help but think of Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor who answered questions, perhaps to the best of his recollection, and then got hit with a perjury charge because his statements did not agree with recorded evidence.

Of course any smart cop would refuse to answer questions about an event, especially one that might get him in trouble, knowing that video probably exists that will prove him wrong no matter what he says.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: the Flynn Effect?

I think the “smart cop” in that comment isn’t keeping their mouth shut because the alternative is lying.
Even if you felt you completely did nothing wrong, there’s no benefit to telling “the truth”. What you remembered with complete honesty is likely wrong in at least one detail. If you tell “the truth” but there is video out there that could prove you wrong, or simply show something you weren’t aware of (maybe because of a bad memory, or the camera being at a different angle than yourself), you are doing yourself no favors.
Keeping quiet at initial questioning can make you look bad, but is acceptable when evidence supports you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: the Flynn Effect?

The problem is the same goes for everybody: Never talk to cops! It can almost never help you.
But this creates a mafia / gang utopia since cops can’t do their job anymore. We should want to talk to cops and feel safe. If there would be less of an “we against them mentality” and cops/prosecutor would care more about important crimes than a quick and perfect conviction it would go a long way.
Instead we have plea bargain to try to convict as much people as fast as possible and even the cops hate anybody that questions them (occasional prosecuter, ACLU, internal affaires). So even Cops are the same and I’m honestly not sure if they see the irony in hating the one who makes sure they are honest but cry about having no support from ordinary people.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Us against them

The antagonistic relationship between law enforcement and civilians stems from our ghettos of minorities which are often patrolled by white-majority officers. This went on to influence police culture (contrary to the Peelian Principles) and minority officers often adapt police culture and lose empathy for their ethnic brethren. Our War on Drugs has served to accelerate the process.

At this point this antagonistic position is pervasive, having expanded from non-white communities to poor communities in general to the general population. (The richest retain respect of the law because they can obtain high-powered lawyers and influence persons in elected or appointed office. They can also hire the police to serve their own military interests as needed.)

But yes, right now prosecutors are overeager to put warm bodies into prisons, and it’s already been observed that convictions, not fair and reasonable determinations of guilt or innocence, are what politically serve prosecutors and law enforcement, and this serves as a perverse incentive to violate civilian rights and withhold exonerating evidence, really to do anything to put suspects into prison, whatever the cost.

carlb (profile) says:

Re: the Flynn Effect?

“Of course any smart cop would refuse to answer questions about an event, especially one that might get him in trouble, knowing that video probably exists that will prove him wrong no matter what he says.”

The catch with that approach is that “taking the Fifth” means having to remain silent. It’s a bit all-or-nothing in that respect.

One can’t remain completely silent if one also wants to make accusations. For instance, if I’m a bad cop and I’m trying to deal with a negro who dented my billy club with his skull one night, it’d be the American way for me to claim that he was “resisting arrest” or guilty of any of a hundred other forms of contempt of cop. Only catch is, the moment I lay those charges, I get put on the stand and subject to annoying cross-examination. So much for the right to remain silent. Not answering the questions means dropping the case.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

So...wait a month before producing third-party witness footage?

In order to demonstrate a police officer was lying to cover his ass, third party witnesses with video footage should wait until after police deposition, and then release the footage publicly (say on torrent).

Not that it matters. We have already shown law enforcement can shoot an unarmed man in the back and be seen planting a gun and still get acquitted because he’s a police officer.

Our system is segregated into castes because people are prone to believe our authorities are good and trustworthy and due reverence because they are authorities (even when this defies reason). Until we create a system that holds our state agents and officials accountable despite this tendency, we’re going to live in a classist society.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Walter Scott case

I was referring to the shooting of Walter Scott by officer Michael Slager, and Anonymous was correct that Slager ultimately got 20 years after he plea bargained and the murder charges were dropped for a guilty plea of deprivation of rights under color of law. I did engage in hyperbole in that Slager’s first trial one juror of twelve refused to convict an officer of the law. It wasn’t an acquittal, but a hung jury. I figured an acquittal was inevitable (and probably would have been if Slager hadn’t plea bargained).

Anonymous was accusing me of Communist foolishness because I was arguing that ours should be a classless society, where officers of state, those rich enough to afford legal defense and those too poor to do so should be on equal legal footing, which I stand by, even if it means I get labeled a Communist by those who like to dismiss rivals by labeling them. And I stand by my assertion that ours is not such a society, that these three categories are treated very differently by the US legal system, enough to be regarded as different classes of people.

But even if Slager is facing prison time, there are plenty of murderous police officers who are not Jeronimo Yanez for instance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The Walter Scott case

Sounds like the Communist is mad his little lie story was proven wrong.

And for Castille, he was killed for OBVIOUS REASONS.

He was stopped on SUSPICION OF ARMED ROBBERY.
After announcing he was armed, he DID NOT STATE WHERE THE GUN WAS.
After announcing he was armed, he began to reach WHERE THE FUCKING GUN WAS, IN HIS POCKET.
After being shouted at repeatedly to stop reaching, HE CONTINUED TO REACH AND IGNORE THE ORDERS TO STOP.

Guess what, Commie? When you do that, you get shot dead.

Guess what, Commie? Every concealed carry license holder knows the appropriate way to interact with an officer while you are armed.

1. Put your hands ON THE STEERING WHEEL AND KEEP THEM THERE.
2. State you are a concealed carry license holder and have a weapon in the car and then state EXCATLY where the weapon is AND KEEP YOUR HANDS ON THE STERING WHEEL.
3. Sit your ass perfectly still and calmly wait for the officer to direct you on what to do next AND KEEP YOUR HANDS ON THE STEERING WHEEL.

Castille is dead because he was an idiot who was high as balls on weed while driving a child around, refusing to follow repeated orders, AND CONTINUALLY REACHING FOR WHERE HIS GUN WAS.

Welcome to reality, Commie. Do you need anymore education today?

What’s next? Stephon Clark? Terence Crutcher? Laquan McDonald? Tamir Rice? Trayvon Martin? Which BS narrative would you like me to publicly school you on next?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 To be fair to actual Communism

We’ve never actually seen a state become communist, rather states with communist ambitions set up provisional heirarchial systems and then never relinquish the power back to the public.

True communism may not be feasible, though post-Soviet Cuba shows efforts on the community scale.

As for police states, they are the same as classical feudalism where the military controls the state by force. The only difference is now we see it as a negative consequence, when before it was regarded as God’s grand design.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 To be fair to actual Communism

Communism isn’t feasible because the endgame isn’t state capitalism, it’s anarchy, and anarchy doesn’t scale. Just as everything starts to collapse because there’s no central bureaucracy to keep things running smoothly, a strongman figure rushes in promising to get everything working again and people are so desperate they go along with it.

This happened following the French Revolution and led to the Reign of Terror, then following the Russian Revolution, leading to Stalinism and the gulags.

As I’ve said any number of times, any philosophy predicated on a best case scenario is ultimately doomed to failure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

All police LIE. They lie to get you to do anything they want. They lie in court because everyone supposedly trusts what they say.

These days I’d believe a criminal over the police!!! Oh I know they’re both lying. So this is more of the same. Lying PIG, making sure his or her lie matches what is seen in the video(s). Nothing new here.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is this really that big of a deal?

Also, requesting footage doesn’t mean you’ll get it,

Well, unless the court is going to openly defy the law and Supreme Court precedent, it does mean the defendant will get it.

And if that happens, then the appeals court will set the trial judge straight and order the material turned over to the defense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Utter lawlessness

The one thing that made up my mind about the supposed “fairness” of the legal justice system was the fact that when DNA evidence first came out, prosecutors who were eager to employ it to secure convictions at the same time fought tooth-and-nail to prevent its use to exonerate prisoners wrongly convicted during the pre-DNA era.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think you can blame the AG. “access any recording of an incident involving the officer” is fairly clear language, and IMO interpreting that to mean only the one officer’s body cameras isn’t really reasonable. It says ANY recording.

It’s not the AG’s fault the law is dumb, and we shouldn’t be encouraging officials to just interpret away laws we don’t like.

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