Dashboard camera video of all police shootings in South Carolina would be released to the public unless investigators can convince a judge the footage would damage their case or jeopardize police procedure, according to a bill approved Thursday by a Senate subcommittee.
If a judge blocks the release, the judge must give a reason and say when it can be released, said Sen. Larry Martin, who pushed for the bill.
The Pickens Republican decided the legislation was necessary after the State Law Enforcement Division waited three months to release the video of a Seneca officer shooting and killing 19-year-old Zachary Hammond in July.
The agency released the video after a prosecutor decided the shooting was justified, saying police Lt. Mark Tiller feared he might be run over even though it appeared Tiller moved toward the car and put himself in the dangerous situation. Without the video, speculation spread in the community that investigators were trying to hide something.
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“This provides an important check on law enforcement and the system,” Martin said.
Martin also submitted an amendment to the bill that would allow authorities to delete the final words of a dying victim from a 911 call released to the public. That was prompted by a Pickens County case where a man shot a neighbor as he was calling 911 to report his friend was shot. The gunshot could be heard on the call, along with the victim’s screams, gasps and moans.
The South Carolina Press Association did not oppose the amendment, and supported the legislation on dashboard camera videos.
Law enforcement agencies currently use different standards to determine if a video should be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.
A prosecutor in Columbia decided to release stunning footage of a state trooper shooting a man during a traffic stop hours after he was fired in 2014.
The State Law Enforcement Division released dashcam video from a former North Charleston officer who is charged with murder in the shooting of Walter Scott after a traffic stop because it didn’t show the shooting.
The agency is being sued by The Associated Press and The Aiken Standard for refusing to release video of the police shooting of a 68-year-old Edgefield County man in his driveway after he led officers on a chase in February 2014. The agency said releasing the video would keep former officer Justin Craven from having a fair trial on a felony charge of discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle.
And The Greenville News filed a state Freedom of Information Act request and eventually sued for the release of a video showing the fatal shooting in July of Zachary Hammond, a Seneca teen, by a police officer. The incident was captured on the officer’s dashcam.
The bill now goes to the full Senate Judiciary Committee.
State staff contributed.