This is one of the strangest "but for video" cases ever. We know many cops are hesitant to clip body-worn cameras on themselves for a variety of reasons. The official statements always express concern about privacy, as though people interacting with public servants somehow believe these interactions are private. Others show concern for police officers' privacy, as though the public is really hoping to FOIA footage of officers sitting in the break room or using the restroom.
Deep down, everyone knows the cameras are a tool of accountability, albeit one that's far from perfect. Body camera footage frequently goes "missing" when force is deployed questionably. And it's completely possible to make the footage subjective with strategic body positioning and constant yelling of exonerative phrases like "Stop resisting!"
So, it's accountability in its infancy, run through a layer of law enforcement-friendly filters (footage is controlled by police officers and often sheltered from FOIA requests). But it's much better than what we had before, where all action had to take place in front of stationary dashboard cameras.
Still, there are plenty of bugs -- both those inherent to the system and those created by law enforcement resistance -- to be worked out. We've seen cops damned by their captured footage and we've seen officers exonerated by footage that contradicts arrestees' complaints.
What we haven't seen before is a camera being activated by someone other than the cop in possession of it. And we definitely haven't seen any situations where the footage captures off-duty violence. This is a new one, and it's likely to lead to another "privacy" discussion by the time it's all sorted out. (via PoliceMisconduct.net)
A North Charleston Police officer was arrested for assaulting his wife Sunday after police say the incident was captured on his body camera. Hanahan Police say the officer, Nicholas Palumbo was arrested early Sunday morning.
According to an incident report, Palumbo's wife told him she wanted a divorce. The report states Palumbo became very irate and pushed his wife to the ground in their kitchen. Police say after the altercation started Palumbo's wife went into the bedroom and turned on his body camera.
According to the report, Palumbo came into the room, pinned his wife to the bed and threatened to strike her in the head with his fist while shaking her. His wife told investigators she was in great fear for her safety and the safety of her children. The report states she did not know where her husband had gone and was afraid he would return home and cause physical harm to her.
I'm not sure which part is more amazing: the forethought of the abused spouse to activate the camera or the fact that the footage was actually viewed by someone at the police department.
We know officers protect officers first. Perhaps being the wife of an officer grants you more attention and respect than a random civilian with a list of allegations. Whatever the case is, the department viewed the footage and arrested the officer. Even more surprising, the officer was immediately fired. I guess this decision was made easier by his bail requirements, which forbade him from possessing guns or ammo -- something every on-duty cop generally has on them or easy access to.
It's a petard-hoisting of sorts and definitely an anomaly in the pantheon of body-worn cameras. No doubt other cops with the same domestic issues will be keeping a closer eye on their issued gear during their off-duty hours. And there will definitely be challenges to the evidence, should this go to trial.
Arguments will be made about surreptitious recordings being used to fire a police officer, but those shouldn't get too far. South Carolina is a one party consent state when it comes to recordings. The fact that it was recorded in a private home (rather than in a public area) makes it a bit more complicated, but the recording should be treated no differently than the spouse's oral testimony. The recording just makes it a lot tougher to challenge the spouse's domestic abuse allegations.
Whatever happens, it's one for the "but for video" record books: body worn camera as the prosecution's star witness in a domestic assault case.
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