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Is Police Body Cam Footage Public Record?

Over the past few years, more and more police departments have adopted the use of officer body cams. The devices attach to an officer's uniform and record what the officers do while on duty. However, there is no uniform law of the land when it comes to the public's right to access the footage from the body cams. Depending on the local jurisdiction, or state, different standards are used for the release of the footage. Some will only allow the footage to be released publicly as part of a criminal or civil trial (as the law requires the disclosure then), while others allow the recordings to be released on YouTube (after private and identifying information is edited out). Video for the People, Not of the People The purpose of police body cams is to engender the public's trust. The idea is essentially that officers will be less likely to not follow the rules, and will be more likely to do everything exactly by the book, if there is a video record of all their actions. These cams can also provide evidence of corrupt police practices, at least when the corrupt officers are not selectively recording with their body cams. The recordings are not just of public civil servants (police officers), but the individuals they encounter are, naturally, caught on camera too. This complicates public disclosure as private individuals have privacy rights, even when they are out in public. Those privacy rights can be violated by allowing the public unfettered access to the footage. A simple example involves a traffic stop. If an officer is not careful when handling a pulled over driver's documents, or the footage is not redacted/edited before it is released publicly, a person's driver's license number, address, height, birth date, and (alleged) weight, could all be captured by a body cam. Who's Watching? Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of police body cam footage, it would likely be impractical, or a drain on police resources, for all of it to be reviewed. Instead, generally, departments review the footage when necessary to review high profile incidents, arrests that lead to prosecutions, or sometimes when officers need help to remember what happened for their reports. Also, when complaints against officers are made by the public, or other officers, the body cam footage can be reviewed. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Police Body Cameras: What Defendants, Victims Need to Know (FindLaw Blotter) Body Cams Embraced, But Who Will Have Access to Footage? (FindLaw's California Case Law) How Does the iPhone's New 'Cop Button' Work? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Nurse Arrested for Not Drawing Coma Patient’s Blood for Police

National news outlets have been reporting the sensational story of a Salt Lake City, Utah nurse who was arrested after refusing the command of a police officer to draw the blood of a comatose patient for an investigation. Fortunately for Alex Wubbels, the nurse involved in the incident, police body cameras recorded the entire event. The nurse cited the hospital policy of requiring a patient's consent, a warrant, or an intent to arrest, before drawing blood for police. When the officer insisted on getting the blood draw done despite not satisfying any of these conditions, Wubbels refused and was then arrested on the spot. What Happened Here? Surprisingly, the coma patient, a truck driver, whom the police were seeking a blood draw from is an innocent victim. Police were chasing a fleeing suspect, when that suspecting crashed head on into the truck driver's big rig, resulting in a fiery crash. The suspect died at the scene, while the truck driver survived, but fell into a coma. The police, in conducting a thorough investigation, were seeking a blood sample from the truck driver to rule out any liability on his end (note: police may not have a legal right to this sample thanks to the Fourth Amendment's protections). The body camera footage clearly shows nurse Wubbels explaining the policy to the officer in charge, and then the officer losing his cool, grabbing her, cuffing her, and forcefully pulling her out of the hospital. During the ordeal, Wubbels can be heard yelling that she did nothing wrong, and that the officer is hurting her. Fortunately, when the superior officer arrived at the scene, she was released. It was explained to the officer that the hospital already took a blood draw, but that they would not release it without proper legal authorization. The city's administration has been extraordinarily embarrassed, issued apologies, and has stated that it is committed to changing policies to prevent this from happening again. The arresting officer has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation into his actions (though the report he filed asserts his superior instructed him to arrest Wubbels). What's the Claim? When officers of law cross the line in performing their duties, both the officers, individually, and the municipality, state, or other government entity can be held liable. Generally, under federal law, 42 USC 1983 protects individuals from police misconduct, including false arrest or excessive force. There may also be claims under state laws, depending on the state where the incident occurred. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) How Does the iPhone's New 'Cop Button' Work? (FindLaw Blotter) NY DMV Busts 4k Fraudsters With Facial Recognition Tech (FindLaw Blotter) Criminal Charges Following Violence, Death in Charlottesville (FindLaw Blotter)
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Texas Law Puts Cameras in Special Needs Classrooms

A new Texas law will require cameras in classrooms with special education students and teachers after an investigation revealed questionable practices in some schools, according to a report from National Public Radio. Last year, a video of an 8-year-old autistic child held captive on the floor in a "calm room" resembling a closet -- over his protests -- was publicized. It prompted parents of special education students to demand cameras in classrooms across the state. The Texas law is the first of its kind in the country but it may be the beginning of a new trend in teaching, given the rise of cameras in policing. Child and Teacher Protection Some teachers resent the intrusion, although video could protect them from false accusations of mistreatment. But there are limits on filming in place in the law. Footage cannot be used in teacher evaluations, audio capability is required for context, and cameras are forbidden in bathrooms. The law's critics say Texas missed the opportunity to better train and compensate teachers, rather than spending on educator surveillance. There is concern that cameras will be a strain on school budgets. Not every school has to install them automatically or even at all. But districts must provide cameras upon request by a parent or school staff member. "Teachers are mixed, and the districts don't like the mandates," said Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Austin-based Association of Texas Professional Educators. The law, which takes effect at the start of the next school year, applies to all of the state's public schools and charters, and to any self-contained classroom in which at least half the students receive special-ed services for at least half the day. A Major Expense The potential expense imposed by the new law is significant, as there are costs beyond camera equipment, such as added servers, microphones, archival capabilities, ceiling mounts, and labor fees. Plus, some rooms may need more than one camera. "We have to figure out how to store the video and audio, and that's a very expensive thing to do," said Robbie Stinnett, a director of special education for the Duncanville Independent School District. She says she has already received requests for cameras from three parents and expects more. "Schools are stretched," Stinnett said. "If [a bill] becomes law, it needs to be funded, because public education isn't funded well enough to add stuff on top of it." Consult With Counsel If you have a child with special needs, speak to a special education lawyer. Consult with counsel and get help even if you do not suspect mistreatment. A lawyer can help you secure the services your child needs at school. Related Resources: Find a Lawyer (FindLaw Directory) Disability Access to Education (FindLaw) Selecting a Special Education Lawyer (FindLaw)
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