Greensboro City Council votes to release police footage of Vo shooting

Sharon Hightower, Nancy Vaughan, Jamal Fox and Nancy Hoffmann (l-r) confer before a vote on Monday.

Greensboro City Council voted 6-2 to release the police body camera video of the shooting of Chieu Di Thi Vo, a Vietnamese woman with limited English capability and an intellectual disability who was killed by former police Officer Tim Bloch in March 2014.

The six votes in favor of releasing the footage came from Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, Councilman Jamal Fox, Councilman Justin Outling and Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann. Councilman Tony Wilkins and Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter voted against the motion. Councilman Mike Barber was absent.

Abuzuaiter wrestled with her decision, calling it “unconscionable” that the decision to release the Vo video to the public was linked to adoption of a policy governing the disclosure of police body-worn camera video. Attorney Tom Carruthers clarified that under existing statute the city council has the authority to release the video to maintain public confidence in the police department regardless of whether the city adopts a new policy.

The State Bureau of Investigation and the Guilford County District Attorney found no wrongdoing on the part of Officer Bloch, and he was reinstated to full duty.

In a memo to city council today, City Manager Jim Westmoreland and Acting City Manager David Parrish wrote: “The body worn camera video of this incident and the related personnel material provided the reasons for this reinstatement to full duty. It supports the actions of Officer Bloch in this unfortunate and tragic occurrence. Officer Bloch followed the training and procedures established for a law enforcement officer.”

After reviewing the video last week, members of the Vo family represented by an attorney expressed outrage about what they consider discrepancies between official statements defending Bloch’s actions and what is depicted in the video.

“After viewing the video with our own eyes, we strongly believe that what we saw and heard simply did not match with the GPD’s initial assessment of what happened — we did not see Chieu Di lunging at Officer Bloch, we did not hear Chieu Di yell anything in Vietnamese at former Officer Bloch, and Chieu Di was not physically threatening her mother,” the family wrote in an official statement released Sunday. “From the 5-6 times that we watched the video last Tuesday, it appeared that Bloch stood approximately 10-15 feet away from Chieu Di and only waited a couple seconds before he started opening fire on her. Within that distance, Bloch did not have to respond to Chieu Di with lethal force as she was not an imminent threat to his life.”

Bloch attended the council meeting and requested to be heard prior to the vote.

“The attorney for the Vo family stated… that Ms. Vo wasn’t running straight towards me,” Bloch said. “And the reason that is, is because there’s a neighbor standing directly behind me. The video doesn’t show that…. I know the average citizen who looks at the video will say, ‘Oh she changed paths slightly if that’s the way they want to interpret it’ — I don’t. There’s reasons why I did what I did and utilized my training and my muscle memory.”

Mayor Vaughan said during a public work session in advance of the vote to release the video that the need to maintain public confidence in the police department came about last week when the family publicly disputed the official version of events.

Westmoreland and Parrish concurred in their memo advising that “it is essential to release the body worn camera recording and related records of Chieu Di Thi Vo.” The two wrote that the allegations made by Vo’s family that Vo was not an imminent threat to Bloch “threaten to erode public confidence in the police department,” adding that “disclosure of this recording is necessary to advance a compelling interest.”

The motion to release the video includes a clause the action is contingent “on the demonstration that Tin Nguyen is the attorney for the estate of Chieu Di Thi Vo.” The family’s request, through Nguyen, that the video be released to the public is one of 11 factors in the city manager’s recommendation.

City Attorney Tom Carruthers said Nguyen has assured him that he’ll be able to obtain a letter of administration verifying his position as attorney for the estate by Wednesday morning. Carruthers said he expects the city to release the video on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.

The city council vote to release the video also stipulates that police Chief Wayne Scott hold a media briefing that will also include release of 911 recordings and radio communications.