As protests unfolded in Baltimore after a young man suffered a fatal injury in police custody, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is requesting a hearing on the use of police body cameras.
Freddie Gray, 25, died Sunday, a week after his arrest. He reportedly fled on foot after making eye contact with officers who were patrolling the high-crime neighborhood, and was taken to a police van after being apprehended by officers. That part of the arrest was captured on video, but officials say no video was rolling inside the police wagon. An hour later, Gray was in a coma.
An autopsy found that Gray’s spinal cord had been severed, but there were no outward signs of injuries. Court documents say Gray was carrying a knife, but “was arrested without force or incident.”
The Justice Department is probing the case for potential civil rights violations, and the mayor of Baltimore has questioned whether there was probable cause for the officers to go after Gray.
Scott called for widespread use of police body cameras after the shooting death of Walter Scott in South Carolina by a police officer during a foot pursuit.
In a letter today to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Scott noticed that they recently discussed “the need for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement.”
“The critical role that video of the tragic and unnecessary April 4 shooting of Walter Scott, a resident of my hometown of North Charleston, SC, has played in the subsequent investigation is undeniable,” Scott wrote.
“I believe that the deployment of body-worn cameras will provide increased protections for both law enforcement officers and those they serve. At least one study shows that public complaints against officers wearing body cameras fell by almost 90% and that officers’ use of force decreased by 60%. At a minimum, we owe it to our communities and law enforcement officers to consider this study and other evidence to explore the wisdom of widespread deployment of body-worn cameras. The vast majority of our nation’s police officers are honest, hardworking professionals, and these cameras can positively impact their mission to protect and serve,” the senator continued.
“I understand that there are multiple and complex questions surrounding the use of body cameras, including privacy concerns, data retention and disclosure issues, and the effects of recording on community relationships. It is essential that we explore these and other concerns as we foster a national discussion on body-worn cameras at a public hearing in Congress.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who for decades lived just minutes from the scene of Gray’s arrest, told CNN that he believes the police report that says no force was used is “ridiculous.”
“It’s insulting to the intelligence of anybody who hears it… to neighbors and people who may have seen it, I say you don’t have the right to remain silent. You must come forward and tell what happened,” Cummings stressed. “I’m saying to the police somebody knows what happened here. They do not have the right to remain silent. We’ve got to restore trust in this city between the police and the community. We’ve got to do even more than that. We’ve got to have total transparency.”
Six officers have been suspended with pay in the Gray investigation.
“These police officers are now in a defensive mode. I’m sure by now they all have lawyers. They know that it’s quite possible that they may be charged criminally. So it’s hard to get answers from them,” added Cummings, who practiced criminal law for many years. “There are probably system-wide problems that have been going on for many years and hopefully with DOJ involved, we’ll be able to find out what they are and do a Ferguson type study to come up with exactly how the policemen operated and what the systemic problems have been and are and try to address them.”