Body Worn Video Steering Group

Bodycams Could Save Our Children’s Lives

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William B. Scott is the author of “The Permit,” a novel based on his son’s murder. His son Erik Scott, 38, was shot by Metro officers William Mosher, Joshua Stark and Thomas Mendiola on July 10, 2010, as he walked out of a Costco store, and Scott believes body worn video could have prevented this tragedy.

Erik Scott Costco Shooting Body Worn Video Camera

Erik Scott

Writing for Politico, the former Rocky Mountain Bureau Chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology and a Flight Test Engineer graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School questions why his son was killed, and how body cameras can play a part in preventing future incidents such as his loss:

My eldest son, Erik Scott, might be alive today if Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers had been required to wear body cameras in the summer of 2010, when Erik was shot to death. Officer William Mosher—who panicked and shot my son as Erik and his girlfriend calmly walked out the door of a Costco—had already killed one man, in his first five years on the Metro force.

Erik’s shooting was ruled “justified” because Costco security system video was destroyed via collaboration between local Costco personnel and Metro detectives. That evidence would have proven Erik was murdered in cold blood. With no video data, a coroner’s inquest jury had no alternative but to accept the blatantly false accounts of on-scene police officers.

Erik Scott Costco Shooting William B Scott The Permit Body Camera

Metro Police Officer William Mosher testifying at the coroner’s inquest

If he’d been wearing a bodycam, Mosher might not have panicked and fired at Erik. Having narrowly escaped criminal charges before, Mosher might have asked himself—as he hovered near the door of Costco, shaking in fear, according to witnesses:  “If I shoot and kill again, will I be fired? Will criminal charges be filed against me?” With his and dozens of other cops’ body cameras documenting every move, there would have been no escaping the truth this time.

Given what we now know about the fatal shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., it’s reasonable to ask the same question about the police officer who killed him, Michael Slager. Would he have acted the way he did had he known it would all be captured on video?

Unfortunately, Slager’s attempt to cover up his apparently unprovoked shooting of Walter Scott isn’t unusual. The veracity of police officers everywhere is being questioned, simply because far too many cops are guilty of duplicity.

Walter Scott Shooting

Walter Scott, moments before being shot.

Law enforcement and its apologists are quick to declare that most police officers are good, honourable troops, are never quick to shoot, and don’t reflexively lie. Still, a sizeable percentage of today’s officers are guilty of such misdeeds.

The answer, it seems to me, is simple: If you’re entrusted with a badge and gun, then you must be held accountable by being required to wear bodycams and accept zero-tolerance protocols that ensure their proper use.

Honest, well-behaved officers actually welcome body cameras, knowing they are an effective tool of both deterrence and protection. Body-worn cameras are a powerful inhibition to the use of deadly force, because they literally are “unimpeachable witnesses.”

Consider the case of my son. Body cameras on officers Mosher, Thomas Mendiola and Joshua Stark (the three shooters, who fired seven rounds into Erik, including five in his back) might have motivated the officers to opt for a much different tactic: Follow Erik into the Costco parking lot, calmly talk to him, then check his legal concealed-carry weapon permit. Every officer would have gone home safely, and Erik Scott would be alive today.

Erik’s Family reacts to the verdict of his death

That was almost five years ago, when bodycams were relatively new. Today, cameras are ubiquitous. Fixed-base cameras monitor street intersections, government facilities, retail stores, homes and offices.

Additionally, most citizens now carry camera-equipped cell phones, and are quick to film any interaction between police officers and civilians.

There’s a very high probability that an officer’s actions will be captured, as evidenced by the invaluable cell phone video of the Walter Scott shooting. And the game-changing value of video data cannot be overstated.

In South Carolina, if bystander Feidin Santana hadn’t secured irrefutable proof that Officer Slager systematically shot and killed Scott, Slager’s fabricated claim about fearing for his life—and Scott taking his Taser—would have been accepted without question.

Officer Slager Police Body Camera Shooting America

“I think he’s scared to death,” said Karen Sharpe, the mother of Michael T. Slager, who is charged with murder. (Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times)

Not only did Santana’s video constitute evidence that Slager literally murdered Scott—shooting the victim in the back, as he ran away—it documented the cop retrieving his Taser, then dropping it near Scott’s body. In other words, a bystander’s video exposed an attempted cover up of a homicide-by-cop and refuted the killer’s fallacious report—which North Charleston officials had accepted and promulgated as fact.

A bodycam ensures events are captured close-up and can be reviewed from the officer’s perspective. Video and audio records back up their version of an encounter, and ensure far fewer complaints are lodged by citizens. Bodycams also document heroic actions, such as the recent case of a cop rescuing a child from a burning home.

Finally, experience validates that cameras often deter criminals from mouthing off or attacking officers, because even bad guys realize they can’t hide from that unflinching camera’s eye.

Dash cameras in police cars and bodycams on officers also are restoring balance and fairness to officer-citizen interactions. These were destroyed by the Supreme Court in 1989, when an “objective reasonableness” standard was imposed by the court’s ruling in Graham vs. Connor.
Erik Scott Shooting Body Camera

Officer Thomas Mendiola

That case essentially gave police officers a get-out-of-jail-free card—a virtual guarantee that they’d never be held accountable for using excessive force. An officer merely had to claim “I felt threatened,” or “I feared for my safety and that of others,” and he’d be exonerated for killing a person.

Deadly unintended consequences of that 1989 Supreme Court ruling, exacerbated by inane “qualified Immunity” laws, tipped the scales of justice firmly in favour of police officers. For the last 26 years, cops have been free to brutalize and kill, assured that they would never be held accountable or face criminal charges for actions that resulted in death. Further, taxpayers always would be stuck with paying lawsuit judgements.

Literally, there was no longer a downside to shooting and killing.

Erik Scott Shooting Joshua Stark

Officer Joshua Stark

Only by proliferating bodycams can we rebalance the citizen-versus-cop equation. Cameras level the playing field, because they are both “deterrent” and “protection.” It’s slow, but bodycams are starting to roll back the unfair advantages imposed by Graham vs. Connor.

Officers are less likely to use excessive force, and citizens tend to behave better, when being filmed.

For example, when bodycams were mandated in Rialto, California, complaints against officers dropped 88 percent, and use-of-force incidents declined 60 percent.Relying on police officers’ honor to record incidents and properly handle bodycam video and audio data would be naive, though.

Outlaw cops, which good officers claim constitute 25-30 percent of a police force in some cities, have destroyed the entire law enforcement community’s credibility, and rogues will find ways to circumvent video and audio evidence.

William B Scott Erik Scott Vigil

Linda Scott, right, and her husband Bill Scott, second from right, attend a vigil for Erik Scott at the Summerlin Costco in Las Vegas during 2013

Consequently, stringent measures must be imposed to prevent tampering with and destroying camera data. An outside, non-law enforcement, neutral party should download and assess all video and audio data to preserve a credible chain of evidence, after an incident.

Strong incentives and penalties also must be established to ensure cameras are turned on and video recordings are not corrupted.

Bottom line: Body cameras are not a panacea. However, if airtight protocols are backed by strong incentives and disciplinary measures that ensure video data are not “disappeared,” bodycams definitely can protect police officers, the citizens who interact with cops, and taxpayers, who won’t have to underwrite massive lawsuit awards.

Erik Scott 1972 -2010

Nothing will heal the huge holes in my family’s hearts, created when a frightened cop mistook Erik Scott’s BlackBerry phone for a firearm. But my goal is to make sure no other family is subjected to the nightmare of a loved one’s death, as well as the jaw-dropping lies, demonization and character assassination that invariably follows, when police officers take a civilian’s life.

Requiring that body cameras be worn by every cop as a condition of employment, backed by robust measures to preserve and protect video data, will bring officers back under the control of their employers—taxpaying citizens.

Cameras also will help protect every sworn lawman, and be a positive step toward restoring honour to what was once an honourable profession: “Peace officer.”

William B Scott Body Camera

William B. Scott

This article has been condensed, click here to read more

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