NYS Court of Appeals: Public has right to view police body cam footage

February 20, 2019 09:05 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) -- A decision by New York state's Appellate Division is adding to the debate about police-worn body cameras and when it's appropriate to release video captured during an incident. 

This ruling is the result of a lawsuit brought by the police union in New York City that had argued body cam video constitutes a police officer's personnel record and therefore could be harmful to an officer if released.

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The court disagreed.

The ruling, however, raises questions about the release of all police body cam video.   

"I think the Appellate Division is correct," said Neil Gunther, defense attorney. 

Neil Gunther is a defense attorney with Foti Law.

He says the purpose of police body-worn cameras is to give the community a glimpse of what is happening between citizens and police.

Gunther represents Christopher Pate of Rochester and others who he says have filed claims against the city in cases where he says there is police body cam video.

"I think it will have an impact," says Gunther. "Frankly, there's more than just Christopher's case going on, whether its complaints of police misconduct and there are body cams in those cases. I think if the public got to see what's happening it would benefit everyone." 

The ruling does not specifically address whether the video will be part of a criminal or internal investigation but likens video to arrest or stop reports, not records generated for disciplinary or promotional purposes.

The Appellate Division ruled that withholding video would defeat the purpose of body-worn camera programs that promote transparency and public accountability.

The president of the Locust Club sees a couple of problems with the ruling, the biggest one; it's broad and doesn't consider a number of scenarios.

"Is it an active investigation," questions Mike Mazzeo, Locust Club President, "both criminally or internally. You certainly don't want to cause any problem with those. Then you have to look at privacy issues, then you have to look at it from a moral perspective as well. What if a police officer is shot." 

News10NBC reached out to the City of Rochester for a comment.

A spokesperson for the city released the following statement:

"This does not apply to the practice in the City of Rochester. We have never used civil rights law section 50-A as a reason to deny access to body worn camera footage. The city will, however, deny access to body worn camera footage if there is a pending judicial proceeding or ongoing criminal investigation." 


Lynette Adams

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