WHEN Farrell began the process of equipping its police officers with body cameras, former police Chief Jon Rococi said the devices would protect both the public from potential abuses by officers and those officers from spurious complaints of abuse.
“Body cameras hold people accountable – and that’s everybody,” said Rococi, who oversaw the bodycam acquisition before his retirement last year. “That’s the officer and the citizens.”
However, that principle stands only if the public can see the bodycam videos.
On Jan. 27, less than six months after Farrell equipped police officers with body cameras, a bystander captured video of police officers struggling to take Aries Shaw, 27, of Youngstown, into custody. Shaw was charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Images on the bystander video, which was posted on social media outlets, do not appear to depict police using excessive force to arrest Shaw and Mercer County District Attorney Peter Acker said officers complied with policy on use of force, and the law.
“The conduct of the Farrell police involved in this matter was in compliance with internal Farrell police protocols and Pennsylvania laws,” he said.
FARRELL – The Mercer County District Attorney’s office concluded that police complied with p…
Acker declined to release the bodycam videos, citing an ongoing investigation. However, the district attorney said he intends to make the videos publicly available, perhaps after prosecution of Shaw reaches Common Pleas Court, when he is required to provide the videos to Shaw and his legal defense.
That’s a positive development. Bodycam videos can protect neither the police nor the public unless the public can view them.
The district attorney is continuing to investigate both the charges against Shaw and the actions of Farrell police in the arrest. Acker said Friday that Shaw said he sustained injuries at the hands of Farrell police and that he has requested medical records to establish those injuries.
The bystander video, about a minute long, shows police wrestling with Shaw, yelling orders at him until they take him into custody.
During the altercation, Acker said Shaw told police at one point that he couldn’t breathe, and officers immediately brought him into a position where he would be able to breathe more easily. Afterward, the district attorney said EMS personnel examined Shaw and said he was not injured.
The timing of Shaw’s arrest – and its capture on video – on the same day as Memphis, Tenn., officials released several videos of the city’s police officers beating Tyre Nichols to death on Jan. 7 – is auspicious.
Acker drew distinctions between the Jan. 27 Farrell incident and Nichols’ killing, saying the Farrell arrest, “is grossly different from the Memphis incident for a number of reasons.”
According to the initial police report, however, the Memphis incident itself was “grossly different from the Memphis incident.”
“As officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred, and the subject fled the scene on foot,” the Memphis police department posted on its Twitter page Jan. 8 about the Nichols arrest. “Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to take the suspect into custody. While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended.”
We have no reason to doubt Acker’s assessment of the Jan. 27 altercation. But we also understand that people who saw the video might be skeptical.
Fortunately, we should soon have an answer when the district attorney releases the bodycam images.
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