San Jose police withholding body cam footage from George Floyd protests

San Jose police withholding body cam footage from George
Floyd protests 1

Despite resounding calls from San Jose residents and elected public officials to increase transparency, the city’s police department is withholding internal video footage of protests earlier this summer in which officers used rubber bullets, tear gas and other crowd-control methods.

Citing the ongoing Department’s Internal Affairs investigations and impending litigation, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia told the San Jose City Council this week that it could take up to a year to for the agency to release video footage caught on officer body cameras and the city’s police helicopter of incidents that transpired during the protests denouncing police use of force after the killing of George Floyd.

“We very seldom want to take a year, but that is what the statute indicates,” Garcia said, pointing to a state law that gives law enforcement up to a year to complete investigations. “So we don’t want to give false hope that we can get this done quicker.”

Between May 29 — the first day of protests in San Jose — and June 30, 2020, 1,024 community members filed complaints with the city’s independent police auditor regarding officer conduct, use of force and potential breaches of the police department’s policies. Those complaints were all consolidated into about 20 internal investigations that are currently underway. For instance, 928 of the complaints were all pertaining to the conduct of one officer — Officer Jared Yuen who went viral for antagonizing San Jose protestors — and were therefore consolidated into three complaints that are being investigated.

The police department has created a page on its website to post videos from the protest, but so far it only features links to a half of a dozen public videos already well-circulated on social media or taken by various media outlets.

Since so much public footage from the protest is already out in the open, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is pushing the chief and City Manager David Sykes to make some of the internal police department videos public before investigations are completed.

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According to Liccardo, many community members are only seeing “a 5-6 second video clip” at this point displaying one side of a story — the protestors — and they are missing the police officers’ perspectives, which the agency’s footage could help remedy.

“Why shouldn’t we just release video if we know it’s an issue of intense public concern and there’s already ample public video out there anyway?” Liccardo said. “Why wouldn’t we want folks to understand what really happened?”

SAN JOSE – MAY 29: A protester is hurt by an object fired by police on East Santa Clara Street during a protest decrying the police killing of George Floyd in downtown San Jose on Friday, May 29, 2020. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group) 

Garcia, however, said that once the department starts releasing video footage, it’s hard to draw a line. So, he is working with the city attorney’s office and city manager to create a “consistent process” for releasing certain footage.

“We have to look at it throughout the entire spectrum of force and whether the exposure to the city, criminal allegations against an officer and other things,” he said. “I think we’re in a new age where we are going to have to be more transparent with body cam footage, that a reality, but we’re just trying to find a process that’s more consistent across the board to do that.”

The police chief’s comments were made during an extensive conversation at Tuesday night’s city council meeting regarding police reform in the aftermath of the protests.

Within the coming month or two, city staff is expected to present a plan to the city council on a community engagement process to “reimagine public safety response” and publicly review use of force practices laid out in the department’s duty manual. The city council is also expected to continue a conversation at one of its next two meetings about amending the police department’s manual to potentially prohibit the use of rubber bullets in all crowd situations.

“This is probably going to be some of the most important work we do over the next few months,” said Deputy City Manager Angel Rios. “Our goal is to outline a framework and a process that’s going to be neutral, open-minded, candid, objective and has a racial equity lens included in it.”

This story will be updated. 

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