Justice

Video Illustrates Major Weakness Of Filming Police

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New video footage shows a St. Louis cop warning her colleagues that a dashboard camera is filming their traffic stop, before the camera is turned off altogether. Now, a lawsuit brought against the officers involved alleges that they used excessive force during the incident.

As seen in a video recorded on a dashboard camera, police pulled over Cortez Bufford after he made an illegal U-turn and parked abruptly. Officers later said that the car Bufford was driving also matched the description of a car seen at separate location where gunfire was reported. According to Officer Nathaniel Burkemper, Bufford declined to give his name, refused to get out of his vehicle when ordered to do so, and had marijuana in the car. Burkemper pulled Bufford out of the car, after which additional officers subdued him on the ground. Several officers kicked Bufford before he was tased twice.

In the process of subduing Bufford, however, the video shows Officer Kelli Swinton yelling “Hold up. Hold up, y’all. Hold up. Hold up, everybody, hold up. We’re red right now, so if you guys are worried about cameras, just wait.” The camera goes dark just a few seconds later.

In a lawsuit filed in January, Bufford maintains that officers used excessive force that left him with numerous “abrasions to his fingers, face, back, head, ears and neck, and incurred medical bills of $6,439.32.” He also contends that the officers lacked probable cause.

Bufford initially received a felony charge for illegal weapon use, as well as a misdemeanor for resisting arrest. However, the charges were dropped on August 26, and his lawyer, Joel Schwartz believes the video footage countered officers’ claimed. Schwartz also thinks the dropped charges had something to do with the death of Michael Brown and the protests that erupted on August 9. But a spokeswoman for the trial court contested Schwartz’ claim, saying “the action of turning off the dash cam video diminished the evidentiary merits of the case.”

Watch the video below:

Police departments nationwide have considered implementing body camera policies, in light of the highly publicized deaths that sparked national protests about police misconduct. Indeed, activists from Berkeley, CA to New York City believe body cameras can improve police accountability and make it easier to prosecute officers who use excessive force. According to a highly cited case study about the merits of filming police in Rialto, CA, complaints against police dropped 88 percent after officers were required to wear cameras. Use of force incidents also decreased 60 percent.

But some worry about the challenges that can come with enforcement of body cameras. For instance, this isn’t the first time officers were caught tampering with recording equipment. In Los Angeles, officers disabled antennas on multiple vehicles before patrolling low-income neighborhoods. Attorneys also see room for abuse, including intense surveillance and the use of cameras for facial recognition. Additionally, video footage does not guarantee that an officer will be disciplined for perceived use of force. Such was the case with Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was filmed using an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner.