Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) on Friday sent a letter to Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts again urging her to heed calls from the public, the media and other elected officials to release all body camera and dash camera video related to the Keith Scott case.
Berger said Roberts ought to act immediately – otherwise a new state law, effective on October 1, establishes a process by which a judge can order the release of the recordings despite her refusal.
The text of the letter is below:
September 30, 2016
SENT VIA EMAIL
The Honorable Jennifer Roberts
Office of the Mayor
600 East Fourth Street, 15th Floor
Charlotte, NC 28202
Dear Mayor Roberts,
For the past 10 days, you have ignored repeated calls from your community and the media to release all body camera and dash camera video related to the Keith Scott case. For 10 days, you have ignored the fact that the City of Charlotte has been the sole custodian of this footage, and that it has been entirely within the city’s discretion to release it. Since today marks your final opportunity to do the right thing of your own volition and immediately release all videos to the public, I write to once again strongly encourage you to do so.
As you know, despite some contrary statements coming from the city of Charlotte, House Bill 972 will first go into effect on October 1, 2016. Given that much misinformation has been injected into the media and conversation surrounding this bill, I feel it is necessary to clarify its provisions. First, make no mistake: through the end of the day, the city may still voluntarily choose to release the Scott footage. However, beginning October 1, the new law will apply to all requests for the release of a recording regardless of when the events in the recording took place. From the UNC School of Government’s non-partisan analysis, prior to HB 972 “the public had no right of access to the recordings, but the law enforcement agency could release them in its discretion.”
You see, the law was designed to address just such a situation as the one that is currently happening in Charlotte. You are refusing calls from the public, the media and other elected officials to be transparent and release video in the public interest. Without HB 972, there was no clear legal process and no authority who could absolutely overrule a politician, like you, who favored secrecy. Now, with the new law in place, “any person requesting release of a recording may file an action in the superior court in any county where any portion of the recording was made for an order releasing the recording.” The judge can order release of the recording by the city after considering eight factors; including, whether release is necessary to advance a compelling public interest, whether release could jeopardize the safety of any person and whether release could threaten an ongoing investigation.
Since you have not yet articulated any of the relevant factors that would justify continuing to refuse to release the footage in this case, you are unlikely to succeed in a legal challenge against you.
In a recent op ed piece in the Charlotte Observer you wrote, “The lack of transparency and communication about the timing of the investigation and release of video footage was not acceptable, and we must remedy that immediately.” If you truly believe that, it is within your power to do so – and you should release all footage immediately.
Mayor Roberts, the city of Charlotte is in upheaval under your watch. The city’s national reputation is quickly crumbling along with the trust that the community has placed in its elected officials. Building trust in a community in which it is severely lacking at present will require transparency and honesty with the public. The time for passing the buck and pointing fingers is over. Leaders are elected for such a time as this. I sincerely hope you will do the right thing for Charlotte and for North Carolina and release the footage today.
SEN. PHIL BERGER