Police departments routinely withhold video of officer-involved shootings and other incidents from the public by using a broad exemption to state-open records laws, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.
The AP tested the public’s ability to access police video for Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of open government, by filing open records requests related to roughly 20 recent incidents in a dozen states.
The requests were met with a series of denials and failed to unearth video of a single incident that had not already been released publicly. A few remain pending and some videos might be released in coming months or years once criminal and disciplinary investigations are concluded. But by then, the public interest in knowing what happened may have waned significantly.
In rejecting or delaying the requests, most law enforcement agencies and prosecutors cited exemptions that allow them to keep records of pending investigations secret. One county claimed the exemption would allow it to keep the video of a motorist’s fatal shooting secret forever — even though the investigation has concluded and cleared the deputy involved.
In North Dakota last year, authorities withheld video for months of 26-year-old Daniel Fuller being hit by an officer’s pistol during a struggle. An autopsy showed that he died from a gunshot to the back of the head.
They released it only after a prosecutor announced in November that the officer did not intend to fire his gun and would not face criminal charges.
Cover photo: Screenshot of video