In late July, the Greensboro Police Department revised their directives to clarify when and how information will be released after certain incidents, including those involving police use of force.

According to the updated directives, a new section titled “News Media Relations” was added on July 24 and outlines a number of policies including the department’s public information officer’s role, as well as when information gets released to the media or public.

Here are some of the highlights.

Release of information during and after a ‘critical incident’ (Directive

According to the GPD, a “critical incident” is “any incident that results in the death or serious injury of another person, involving a police employee, including a motor vehicle crash.”

These include police use of force cases.

The newly outlined policy notes several steps in which information in these cases is released, including how the department handles body-camera footage. The public information manager will prepare a media release which may include updated public information including victim names, excluding names of involved juveniles.

What about the names of the officers involved?

According to the new policy, the names of officers involved in the critical incident are not immediately released to the media.

Release is considered only after: 

  1. The officers are notified
  2. Appropriate measures are taken to consider the welfare of the officer and the officer’s family
  3. The officer has completed a psychological assessment, a standard protocol. 

Last week, GPD Public Information Officer Josie Cambareri released the names of the officers involved in the shootings and killings of Ernesto Ruiz on June 30 and Graham Thomas Roberson on June 22

According to the releases, Officer John P. Corrigan shot Roberson after he found Roberson walking around Tuscaloosa Street close to midnight. Cambareri clarified in a later statement to the News & Record that Roberson “displayed” a weapon but did not shoot at Corrigan before being shot and killed.

In the Ernesto Ruiz case, Sergeant Andrew J. Muldowney, Officer Johnathan L. Greene and Officer Gage A. Kirkland were named as the officers involved. 

According to the release, police officers were dispatched near Randleman Road around 9:40 p.m. after calls came in about gunfire. Upon arriving at the scene, police realized that the sounds were actually fireworks. However, about 15 minutes later, they encountered a person who they say was wielding a knife and a machete. According to the press release, there was a foot pursuit and officers attempted to use a Taser and pepper spray to subdue the person who ran to a nearby gas station. Once there, police said the person turned towards the officers and” began advancing towards officers with the knives.” The three officers then shot and killed Ruiz.

Other times when officers’ names could be withheld

The names of the officers will be released only upon approval of the police chief or their designee. The police chief may withhold the release of names, indefinitely, if it is determined there is an exigent circumstance or threat to the welfare of the officer or their family. The police chief may also withhold information if it is determined that release would obstruct or harm a criminal investigation.

What about body-camera and dash-camera footage?

As reported by TCB, the laws surrounding release of body-camera and other footage by police officers in North Carolina has become more complicated in recent years.

As the law is currently written, body-camera footage is not public record and can only be viewed by or disclosed under specific circumstances. The police department can only disclose (different from release) footage to people captured on that footage if there has been no bodily harm or death. However, in instances that involve bodily harm or death, police departments must now file civil actions, or lawsuits, to get courts to release footage to the public due to case law from February. They can no longer just fill out a form or petition the courts. 

The updated directive for the GPD is written as follows: “For incidents subject to a criminal investigation, and after a prosecutorial determination is made by the District Attorney’s Office, the Chief of Police may petition the court for an order to release body-worn camera and vehicle-mounted camera recordings. 

The PIM will issue an updated release for the City Manager’s Office and media partners. If the petition is granted by the court, the GPD will provide recordings to the CMO and publicly release all recordings pursuant to the Order of the Court. Any employee whose image or voice is captured in a recording (and can be identified) shall be notified by Police Attorneys prior to petitioning the Court.”

In an interview on Monday, Greensboro Police Chief John Thompson clarified the new directives.

“When we say petition, we will take whatever legal action is required,” Thompson said. “If you want to say it’s a petition, if you want to say it’s a suit, but we will start the process to get in front of a judge to have the video released.”

Confusion stemmed from the use of the word “petition” in the directives. 

Others who read the new directives took issue with the word “may,” which means that the police chief may choose not to file an action to have footage released in some cases. And that’s because Thompson said he wants to “leave [himself] the opportunity to make a decision.”

“There are a thousand different scenarios that could happen,” Thompson said. “For instance, I have an officer that comes out here and gets involved in a critical incident and maybe the family comes to me and says, ‘You know what, this is traumatizing for our family. Chief, we’re going to ask you please don’t release this video.’ I would like the opportunity to be able to hear that and make a decision. If I say I will release it, I can’t even take into account anybody on the video that may not want us to petition to release it…. I just wanted the opportunity to say that I could evaluate that if that scenario were to ever happen.”

Release of information during a ‘major incident’ (Directive

According to the updated policy, when a major incident occurs — defined as a homicide, accident involving serious injury, barricaded subjects or crimes-in-progress, large-scale natural disaster — the following information must be released under state law:

  • The time, date, location, and nature of a violation, or apparent violation, of the law reported to a public law enforcement agency.
  • Except for juveniles, the name, sex, age, address, employment, and alleged violation of law of a person arrested, charged, or indicted.
  • The factual circumstances surrounding an arrest, including the time and place of arrest,
  • whether the arrest involved resistance, possession or use of weapons, or pursuit, and a
  • description of any items seized in connection with the arrest
  • The contents of “911” and other emergency telephone calls received by or on behalf of public law enforcement agencies, except for such contents that reveal the name, address, telephone number, or other information that may identify the caller, victim, or witness. Media representatives may request these recordings by submitting a public information request in the City of Greensboro public information request portal.
  • The contents of communication between or among employees of public law enforcement
  • agencies that are broadcast over the public airways.
  • The name, sex, age, and address of a complaining witness unless identified on a 911 or other emergency telephone call. Note: this information may be withheld if release is likely to pose a threat to the health or safety of the witness, or compromise the investigation or operation

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