Justice

Witnesses To Police Attack Say Cops Tried To Bribe Them To Keep Quiet

CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern announced on Tuesday that the department will make body camera use mandatory.

A victim of police brutality in San Francisco alleges that the two offending officers bribed witnesses to keep quiet. Stanislav Petrov claims that the officers stole his gold chain, wallet, and a packet of crystal meth and offered the valuables to homeless people who saw the attack. The witnesses, Jerome Allen, and his wife, Haley Harris, corroborated the allegation on a local television news station on Tuesday.

The officers in question sparked public outrage last November after a public defender released security camera footage of the brutal attack. Surveillance footage from a nearby building shows two sheriff’s deputies, Luis Santamaria and Paul Wieber, beating Petrov with their batons. The officers say Petrov rammed police vehicles with his car and led them on a high-speed chase. Petrov was hit 40 times in the video, but due to 10-second gaps in the footage, only half of the beating was recorded. Nine officers arrived at the scene as the beating concluded.

Santamaria and Wieber later filed reports that Petrov was resisting arrest, a claim that is refuted by video evidence. The victim’s latest allegation of bribery may prove difficult to resolve, however, due to the gaps in the footage. Of the 11 officers on the scene, only one officer involved in the beating turned on his body camera.

In response to the outcry over the incident, Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern announced on Tuesday that the department will make body camera use mandatory.

“It’s incumbent upon me to make sure that the culture of this agency is above reproach,” Ahern explained at Tuesday’s press conference.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, told ThinkProgress that body cameras can make some officers feel overly monitored, taking away their discretion and making them more strict. On the other hand, body cam footage can exonerate falsely accused officers. “All things considered, I think body cameras do more good than harm,” he said.

Although Alameda County has the resources to store body camera footage, other police departments are not so fortunate. For small police departments operating on a tight budget, spending millions to store that much data could break the bank.

Critics charge that body cameras can be easily tampered with. Philip Fornaci, a private investigator who previously ran the D.C. Prisoners Project, compares body cameras to jail cell surveillance cameras, which are often tampered with. “They turn off cameras or say ‘there’s no film,’ as if there’s film in video cameras these days.” If jail footage can be manipulated or destroyed, Fornaci contends, then the same can happen with body camera footage.

But this police department’s footage collection system is too automated for tampering, according to Sgt. Kelly. “The footage downloads automatically via the patrol car’s WiFi and is synced to the station. Our system takes out as much of the human factor as possible.” He added on behalf of the department, “We take this issue seriously. Anyone who tampers with evidence is committing a crime and will be fired and charged.”