It would be harder for police in South Carolina to withhold the release of dashcam video under a bill a Senate subcommittee debated Thursday. Now, law enforcement agencies sometimes refuse to release dashcam videos after Freedom of Information Act requests because their release might jeopardize investigations. Under this bill, they would have to get a judge to say that the video shouldn’t be released.
Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, the sponsor of the bill, says it would, “Give the public a comfort level that an independent third party has reviewed it and believes that it would be in the best interest of everyone, as the law requires, to keep it confidential for a time.”
Bill Rogers, executive director of the SC Press Association, says, “It makes sure the public will have access to police videos of shootings and tazings that they’re involved in. Right now, these things can be withheld and no disciplinary action is ever taken against an officer.”
He says a good example is a shooting death two years ago in Edgefield County. A North Augusta officer shot and killed 68-year-old Ernest Satterwhite Sr. Police say Satterwhite led Officer Justin Craven on a 13-mile chase that ended when Satterwhite pulled into the driveway of his home. Craven fired into Satterwhite’s car, killing him. Satterwhite was unarmed. The dashcam video has not been released after two years.
During debate on the bill, Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the SC Sheriffs’ Association, said the group is in favor of accountability and is not necessarily against the bill, but they do have concerns. “The only decision that the judge would be able to make this on would be the clear and convincing evidence that there is harm to the agency. It says nothing about the individual’s right to a fair trial. And, you know, releasing the video prematurely may impact the individual’s right to have a fair trial.
“We are all for public releasing, letting the public know what we’re doing with their tax dollars. We’re certainly supportive of that. But there is a process that has to be followed and that criminal justice process has to be put above public curiosity,” he said.
Sen. Martin says the subcommittee will continue to work on the bill and address any concerns about it. The bill would apply only to dashcam video, not video taken by police body cameras, because body cameras are covered by a separate law that was written with this concern in mind.