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News Update: Alabama Cops Murder Of Dana Fletcher At Planet Fitness
The police involved in the deadly shooting of Dana Fletcher in the parking lot of Planet Fitness last week, are still refusing to release their body cam footage, of the Dana Sherrod shooting to the public. My question is why
In some states, videos are made public almost immediately after the incidents.
“The argument that body camera footage is public record is winning the day in many other states,” said Dennis Bailey, an attorney for the Alabama Press Association.
A spokesman for the Madison County sheriff’s office, which is investigating the shooting, said he doesn’t anticipate releasing video to the public.
“All video gathered is considered evidence and is part of the investigation,” he said in a statement.
Bailey said the national trend is that the videos eventually become public records after an investigation is completed. In Alabama, courts haven’t clarified whether videos obtained by body-worn cameras or dashboard cameras are public records.
“Some in Alabama take the position they’ll never be public records, which I would say is the minority legal view,” Bailey said.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, Madison police officers were called to investigate a report of a suspicious person at Planet Fitness. Someone called around 4:30 p.m. to report that a man and a woman were inside the gym filming people and asking personal questions.
Police found Fletcher, his wife and their daughter in a van in the parking lot.
Fletcher and his wife weren’t cooperative, authorities said, and officers tased Fletcher but were still unable to “get him under control and disarmed.”
“The less-than-lethal (taser) was not effective and the struggling Fletcher exited the car with the gun in his hand and pointed at officers,” the sheriff’s office said earlier this week. “Two Madison police officers fired their weapons and Fletcher was struck. The officers attempted first-aid on Fletcher, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.”
In a Facebook post hours after the shooting, Fletcher’s wife said her husband had been unarmed. Law enforcement disputed her account and said Fletcher pointed a gun at police before officers shot and killed him.
Authorities said they have video to back up their account but have not released the footage.
The public has seen glimpses of what happened through cellphone video footage shared online.
Video footage obtained by WHNT News-19 shows the final moments of the deadly encounter. The TV station didn’t say where it obtained the video. Police are heard on the video footage repeatedly telling Fletcher to get out of his family’s vehicle.
During the confrontation, a person can be heard yelling “let go of the gun” and “he’s got a gun” just before police shot Fletcher. The video ends after at least two shots.
Ben Crump, a national civil rights attorney, is representing Fletcher’s family along with Chicago-based Romanucci & Blandin law firm. Crump said the family is demanding answers from Madison city police department and the Madison County sheriff’s office, which is investigating the shooting.
"Dana’s death is a tragic and unnecessary outcome from a police encounter that should have resulted in help, not death,” Crump said on Friday. “It is another example of police overreaction and excessive use of force against people of color. The department owes his family and the public a full accounting of the facts and full transparency to get answers.”
A public record?
AL.com filed a public records request seeking video footage from body-worn cameras or dashboard cameras. Madison city officials rejected the request, saying they are allowing the investigation to “proceed with no interference or risk that witnesses or evidence are compromised in any way.”
“Releasing evidence under consideration by investigators prior to the conclusion of their work jeopardizes investigations,” city officials said.
Faced with controversial shootings, other police departments across the country have released video footage of recent officer-involved shootings. That includes the deaths of Richard John Sanchez in San Bernardino, California and Atatiana Koquice Jefferson in Fort Worth, Texas.
In Alabama, police agencies routinely choose not to make such videos public.
The withholding of such videos is being challenged in court, including in the case of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford, who was fatally shot by Hoover police inside the Riverchase Galleria mall on Thanksgiving last year. Bradford’s family, the ACLU of Alabama, and the Alabama NAACP are suing Hoover police and the Alabama Attorney General for the release of all police body camera videos and surveillance footage of the incident, plus documents that include the officers’ names.
In the case of Jeffrey Parker, a man fatally shot by a Huntsville police officer last year, the department declined to release body camera video footage to the public. A year later, some footage was shown during a hearing — after the officer, William “Ben” Darby, was indicted on a murder charge. Copies of the video still haven’t been released to the public, though members of the news media watched the footage in court and reported on what it shows.
Once the sheriff’s office finishes its investigation, the Madison County district attorney’s office will decide whether to take the case to a grand jury.
Tim Gann, Madison County’s chief trial attorney, said prosecutors expect to review the case within a couple of weeks.
While prosecutors will consider whether a crime was committed, it’s up to the Madison police department or city officials to determine whether officers followed policy and procedures. A police spokesman didn’t respond to questions about who makes such determinations.