ACLU wants body camera video released

Posted at 10:21 PM, Aug 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-22 23:21:26-04

The American Civil Liberties Union is putting pressure on the Wisconsin's attorney general to release body camera video showing the shooting of Sylville Smith by a Milwaukee police officer. Smith's death lead to two days of violence around Sherman Park.

Police Chief Ed Flynn has said that the entire incident involving Smith took about 25 seconds to unfold.  What we don't know is if the officer activated his body camera before he told Smith to drop a weapon.  The ACLU of Wisconsin's executive director, Chris Ahmuty, said this could mean you don't hear the actual shots.

"That suggests the officer didn't turn on their video when they should have," said Ahmuty.

The cameras are always recording, but not always saving the video. Here is how it works: When an officer wants to save an incident, they double click on the camera. The camera will then go back and save the previous 30 seconds of video as a safeguard in case something happened before the camera was activated. There is no audio on that 30 seconds. Audio starts the moment the officer double clicks the camera.

"We don't think it's a defect if you don't have the audio, if you can have training and policies that make it so the officer turns on the video as soon as the encounter begins," said Ahmuty.

"I know that the video starts as the officer is still in the vehicle and then about 30 seconds later the audio kicks in, said Brad Schimel, Wisconsin Attorney General.

Schimel says he is not yet ready to release the body cam video.  And that concerns the ACLU.

"If you retain, withhold the body cam video without a good reason that is going to undermine community trust," said Ahmuty.

Schimel said he is holding the video because he still needs to preserve evidence.

"In the end the pubic needs to have confidence that the process was an effective search for the truth," said Schimel.

The attorney general says if there are no charges, the video will be released right away. It will first be shown to the Smith family and then to the public. If they decide to prosecute, it will be the district attorney who decides on if and when to release it.

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