Police in this Ohio city must now post 'deadly force' footage on YouTube within 7 days of incident

The new Akron law goes further than any in Ohio when it comes to the timely release of use-of-force videos


By Doug Livingston
Akron Beacon Journal
        
AKRON, Ohio — Akron City Council unanimously passed a new law Monday that requires videos of "deadly force" by police to be automatically posted online for the public to view within seven days.

Sponsored by Mayor Dan Horrigan, Council President Margo Sommerville and Vice President Jeff Fusco, the new law goes further than any in Ohio when it comes to the timely release of videos that can vindicate an officer's split decision, reveal an abuse of power and — depending on how the public receives them — inflame or calm an outraged community.

Crafting of the new law began when the mayor-appointed Akron Charter Review Commission met last spring. In July, the body recommended that the "prompt release" of police footage be placed on the November ballot; 89% of Akron voters supported it.

If body cam footage of a 'deadly force' incident exists, the new law says the city of Akron would be on the hook for any attorney's fees and up to $100 for each day the footage was withheld.
If body cam footage of a 'deadly force' incident exists, the new law says the city of Akron would be on the hook for any attorney's fees and up to $100 for each day the footage was withheld. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

George Floyd murder prompts calls for police transparency, accountability

The death of George Floyd accelerated Akron lawmaking around transparency and accountability in policing. Council and the mayor strengthened the police auditor position and outlawed chokeholds, among other measures. But before and even after Floyd's death, the city of Akron and its police department have not been swift to release police footage when officers are under scrutiny for firing their weapons.

In January 2020, officers shot and wounded a 19-year-old suspect who ended a police chase by crashing his car. Following an automatic internal investigation, three officers on paid leave were put back on active duty in less than a month. But it took four more days of media and public pressure before Horrigan and former Police Chief Ken Ball held a press conference to show the body camera videos. The police department narrated the videos during the public viewing.

Under the new law passed Monday, police would be required to post the video (up to three angles if they exist) within seven days of any use-of-force incident.

Release of police body-worn camera footage not always prompt in Akron

Video is rarely released that quickly. Monday, for example, marked 14 days since the Beacon Journal requested footage of the last officer-involved shooting.

In that incident on June 13, police say a man fleeing a shooting at an East Avenue gas station fired in their direction. An officer chased the man on foot then fired. It's unclear if the suspect, who remains at large, was struck.

Another Akron officer resigned this spring, seven weeks after his own body worn camera footage captured his hand shoving snow into the face of a man laying face down on the ground. Instead of releasing footage of that incident to media through public records requests, the police department and city hastily convened a press conference after the man's attorney alleged that the officer put a knee in the man's neck, which the video does not clearly show.

While obstructing his breathing and clearly against police procedure, it's unclear if subduing a suspect with snow to the face would be a use of force that triggers the new automatic release of the video.

Monday afternoon before passing the new law, Councilman Shammas Malik called the legislation "a great step" toward transparency. Then he alluded to the incidents that may not fall squarely in the category of deadly force, which is defined in the new law as "any force that carries a substantial risk that it will result in serious bodily injury or death of any person."

"There are certainly incidents that don't rise to the level of deadly force or serious bodily injury that very much are of public interest," Malik said. "So, I hope that we kind of continue this in ongoing conversation, but I really want to applaud the administration and President Sommerville and Vice President Fusco for this step."

The new law does provide a "backstop" in cases that fall into the murkier areas of deadly force. If a citizen believes the police department has failed to release deadly force footage, a petition may be filed for its release, much in the way a public records request is made today.

Akron currently handles those records requests on a case-by-case basis, sometimes denying the footage as part of an ongoing investigation and other times releasing it. However, if the footage exists, the new city law agrees with state law that says the city of Akron would be on the hook for any attorney's fees and up to $100 for each day the footage was withheld.

©2021 www.beaconjournal.com.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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