ACLU calls for officer body cam footage in Sylville Smith shooting

Mayor Barrett says he purposely didn't watch video
Posted at 3:49 PM, Aug 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-18 19:20:06-04

MILWAUKEE -- After days of riots in the city, the ACLU of Wisconsin and other community agencies have made a public demand for authorities to release body camera footage from the Milwaukee police officer who shot and killed Sylville Smith.

Without that video, the agencies say more unrest could be on the way.

"Without transparency and the release of the body cam video, we fear the unrest that is still smothering will re-ignite," said Marta De La Rosa, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now. "And the impact may be greater than what we saw this last weekend."

Wisconsin Jobs Now, along with the the ACLU of Wisconsin and the Coalition of Justice, say they want the video released first to Sylville Smith's family and then to the public.

"Releasing the video and other basic information about the investigation is in the public interest and we think it outweighs any other factors or concerns that have been raised," said ACLU Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty.

The ACLU says it wants to know if the officer involved saw the footage before investigators interviewed him. Ahmuty referred to Milwaukee Police's standard operating procedure that does not allow an officer in this situation to review the footage before being interviewed.

But Ahumty says that procedure was amended in June to allow certain exceptions to officers to see the video before giving their statements.

"We don't know if any of those exceptions were granted, so the officer could look at the video, probably not, but we just don't know because they're just not telling us anything about the investigation," he said.

The agencies also referred to Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn's statement that the video shows Sylville Smith had a gun in his hand. But Flynn also said there is no audio, because the body camera requires a buffer period before audio is recorded. In this case, Flynn says the incident shown on video is only about 25 seconds long.

"Without the sound, without knowing when the order to drop the gun was given, without knowing when the shots were fired, just having the gun in the hand doesn't tell the public what they need to know," said Ahmuty.

He also called into questions statements made by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who said publicly that he hasn't seen the video, but did see a screen grab.

"I purposely didn't want to see it," said Barrett. "I saw the still picture and I thought that I should see it when everyone else sees it."

Barrett says he didn't want to be in a situation where he's hiding information. But he did say publicly that the still photo showed Smith had a gun in his hand at the time.

"I think there's going to be more to the story as it unfolds and I think people will draw their own conclusions," he said.

When asked if Barrett has drawn any conclusions from seeing the photo, he responded, "I haven't, no. Well again, he did have a gun. I think there's going to be questions, what happened to the gun? All of those things are going to be legitimate questions."

TODAY's TMJ4 reached out to both Milwaukee Police and The Wisconsin Department of Justice who both did not have any comment on the concerns and questions raised by the ACLU. Milwaukee Police only said that the "investigation is ongoing."

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