Utah shooting raises questions on when police release video

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2016 6:32 PM
Utah shooting raises questions on when police release video

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Police are refusing to release body camera video of Salt Lake City officers shooting and critically injuring a 17-year-old Somali refugee, fueling public outcry and leading some to call the decision on when to reveal such footage inconsistent.

Footage from officers' body cameras is at the center of a national discussion about police use of force, especially with minority victims, and authorities around the country are working to decide when to reveal video from the increasingly popular law enforcement tool.

Twenty-three states have created laws for body cameras, many passed last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Authorities have declined to release the footage from Saturday's shooting until they finish investigating. Keeping it private until investigators have sifted through the evidence to put the video in context is fairer to officers and the victim, said Unified Police Detective Ken Hansen, whose department is investigating.

Abdi Mohamed, who came to the U.S. with his family in 2004, was shot twice in the torso last weekend when officers tried to stop him and another person from beating a man with metal sticks, police said.

Officers told them to drop their weapons, but the teen moved menacingly toward the victim, authorities said. Mohamed remained in critical condition Tuesday.

The shooting stirred unrest Saturday in the city's bustling downtown, where about 100 officers in riot gear barricaded four city blocks as bystanders threw rocks and bottles. Hundreds of people turned out for a protest Monday, some carrying signs saying, "Stop killer cops."

The incident shows the lack of consistent guidelines for police body camera footage, said Anna Brower, spokeswoman for the ACLU in Utah. A day after a deadly police shooting last year, the Salt Lake City department released video showing a man attacking the officer with a snow shovel.

"When police don't have a standard response for these kinds of situations, they put the public in a position of wondering, 'Why is it taking longer? What are you hiding?'" Brower said.

Former Mayor Rocky Anderson said the different ways of handling the footage makes it look like police are opportunistic, releasing videos that make them look good and holding back others with problems.

Because Mohamed survived, he could face criminal charges or sue the department, factors that may bolster the argument for withholding the footage, said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a Utah libertarian-leaning nonprofit.

But his group generally favors videos' quick release, saying it creates transparency and quiets the backlash against police.

Michael Millard, president of the union for city officers, said he would like to see all videos withheld until investigators and prosecutors have finished their work. It's more important that officers and suspects are treated fairly than it is to stem curiosity, he said.

It has become such a hot topic that Republican Gov. Gary Herbert weighed in, saying Tuesday that he thinks it's appropriate to keep the video private as the investigation unfolds.

Police have been tight-lipped on details surrounding the shooting, leaving questions about why Mohamed was in the part of town that police regularly patrol to crack down on drug dealing and violence.

Mohamed's cousin Muslima Waladi told the Deseret News that Mohamed was a good kid but started getting in trouble after falling in with a bad crowd.

He had a juvenile history of a dozen offenses since late 2010, including theft, trespassing and aggravated assault with a weapon, court records show.

Mohamed and his family fled war-torn Somalia and arrived in the U.S. by way of Kenya more than 10 years ago. There is a relatively large community of refugees in Salt Lake City, where a strong economy and Mormon outreach programs can make it easier to find jobs and settle into a new life, said Deb Coffey, executive director of the Utah Refugee Center.

Refugees have to navigate transportation, schools for their children and learning English, which for some is their first written language.

"It's joyful and exciting, and there's also fear. It's hard," Coffey said.