Officer’s camera misses key moment in Patrick Lyoya’s death

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A television display shows video evidence of a Grand Rapids police officer grappling with and shooting Patrick Lyoya at Grand Rapids City Hall on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Lyoya, 26, was fatally shot around 8 a.m. 10, April 4, after what police said was a traffic stop. (Grand Rapids Police Department)

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Body camera footage of Patrick Lyoya’s fatal encounter with a Michigan police officer shows a close-up view of an intense struggle, but the video cuts out 42 seconds before the officer shoots the black man in the head.

It is the latest high-profile case in which body cameras – touted as tools to hold police accountable – have failed, leaving prosecutors and the public to rely on bystander video for a clearer picture of what was happening. happened.

An expert said sellers could make changes to prevent accidental camera deactivations, although it’s unclear what happened in Lyoya’s case, and some activists said an accident seems unlikely . Either way, Lyoya’s family and their lawyers say it shows the importance of citizen video. The shooting was captured by the Lyoya passenger, with a cell phone and a doorbell camera from across the street.

“Keep filming the police because transparency is important to them and it’s certainly important to us,” said Ben Crump, an attorney for Lyoya’s family.

The officer was on top of Lyoya, who was face down, when he shot the 26-year-old Congolese refugee in the head on April 4.

Body camera video released by police this week shows the initial stop and the officer saying the car’s license plate was not registered to the vehicle. It shows Lyoya’s attempt to run away and a struggle as the officer repeatedly tells him to stop. At one point, Lyoya has her hand on the officer’s stun gun, and the officer yells at her to let go.

The video then turns black. The police dash cam captured audio but no footage of the shooting.

Official sources may have limitations for a variety of reasons, such as the limited dashcam view of the Grand Rapids incident or the fixed point of view of a surveillance camera. In the recent Brooklyn subway attack, computer system problems prevented authorities from recording or viewing footage on security cameras in the station where the subway train stopped after Frank James allegedly opened fire.

However, other cameras in the system worked and provided essential evidence.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said officers had to hold down a button on the camera for three seconds to turn it off. He said the button was pressed several times during the fight in this case, but the moment the screen went blank “was the first time it was held down for more than three seconds. That’s what turned it off.

A body camera expert said it appeared to have been unintentional.

“This officer, he is in the middle of a fight with this citizen. And I’m sure turning off the camera would have been the least of his worries,” said Michael White, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University and co-director of training and support. technical for the United States. Department of Justice Body Worn Camera Implementation Policy and Program.

White couldn’t think of another instance in which an officer’s camera had been inadvertently turned off during a fight.

But the cameras are sometimes reversed on officers’ uniforms.

The Axon Body 3 camera used by the Grand Rapids Police has a large circular button on the front surrounded by a ridge, so the button is slightly recessed. Officers press the button twice to record and hold it for three seconds to turn it off.

Axon said it remains “committed to developing technology and training for public safety,” but declined to comment further, citing the investigation.

Michelle Gross, a Minnesota police accountability activist and president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, was among those who doubted the officer’s camera was accidentally turned off, citing the recessed button.

An expert in police liability issues agreed. Sam Walker, a retired professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, called the camera disablement “suspicious” and said it needed to be investigated.

During the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, bystander video was crucial in drawing attention and documenting what happened. In this case, Derek Chauvin’s body camera went down as he and other Minneapolis police officers grappled with Floyd, who was black. Video recorded by a teenage bystander, along with other officers’ body cameras, played a key role in Chauvin’s conviction for murder.

During the 2019 arrest of Elijah McClain, a black man who died after officers confronted him in suburban Denver, the three officers’ body cameras went off during a struggle. The cameras continued to record audio, but there was no video footage to verify a police claim that McClain took one of the officers’ weapons. He was placed in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine. He later died in a hospital.

Sometimes officers intentionally turn off the cameras. During the 2019 beating and death of Ronald Greene, another black man, Louisiana Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth turned off his body camera during a car chase. It was one of many policy violations for which he was ultimately fired.

White said some body cam models have ways to prevent accidental deactivation, such as requiring you to press a button three times. He said if it is deemed that the camera carried by the officer in Lyoya’s death was accidentally disabled, he would not be surprised if major vendors start working on modifications, such as additional manual mechanisms or voice activation. He said companies had developed solutions to prevent body-worn cameras from being knocked over, like stronger magnets.

Ayesha Bell Hardaway, an associate professor of law at Case Western Reserve University and co-director of the school’s Social Justice Institute, said the lack of video in use-of-force cases can affect whether officers are charged. Without direct evidence such as video, prosecutors must rely on the reasonable officer standard to bring charges, considering whether a reasonable officer would have believed their life or the lives of others were in danger.

“The absence of the video at the critical moment gives us no window to situate ourselves at that moment,” she said. “This now brings us back to where we were – at the word of an officer.”

Bell Hardaway said viewer video has become increasingly important in these cases.

“I shudder to think of the lack of accountability that exists in a world without this technology,” she said.

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Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in Washington, DC; David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; Colleen Slevin in Denver; and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed.

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