Winston-Salem residents play long game in effort to see police video

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crystal blackwell
Crystal Blackwell, a student organizer at Winston-Salem State University, addresses Winston-Salem City Council on Monday. (photo by Jordan Green)

Residents remind officials that they still want to see the police video in the officer-involved shooting of Edward McCrae. The State Bureau of Investigation review of the fatal shooting could be complete in about two weeks, but an autopsy is likely to take longer.

Residents in Winston-Salem are reminding city officials that they haven’t forgotten about the fatal police shooting of Edward McCrae in late March, and still expect transparency and accountability.

Residents have held protests to keep McCrae’s case in public view since the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office successfully argued before a superior court judge in April that police body-camera video should not be released to the public, a response to a request by the Winston-Salem Journal. Judge Stuart Albright said he wanted to honor the wishes of the McCrae family to review the video prior to any public release, but the ruling appeared to leave open the possibility of release at a later time.

City leaders, including Councilman James Taylor, chairman of the public safety committee of Winston-Salem City Council, have pledged transparency in the matter.

“In incidents where police kill people who don’t overtly appear to deserve death, often there’s very rarely punishment that seems commensurate to the loss of life,” said Crystal Blackwell, a student organizer at Winston-Salem State University. “It’s unlikely that no one’s watching. It seems almost insane that we could have the cameras and not see what happens. It seems like that’s the point; that’s the impression that we would hope to create.

“You guys on the city council have mentioned the effect of public confidence,” Blackwell continued. “I think that public confidence and accountability are kind of the same thing — different sides of the coin. I would find it to be a shame and a sham if we had cameras that we can’t see. It’s no power; it’s just a concession. I would press for true accountability.”

The current law requiring a court order to release police-body camera was enacted by the state General Assembly in October 2016.

“We’re clearly seeing some of the problems with community confidence that come as a result of a poorly crafted, hastily enacted law,” Councilman Dan Besse said. “When we established our local body-camera program, we did so with the intent of bolstering community confidence and police-officer safety by being able to release in a timely, orderly fashion to show what actually transpired in an event. The statute as enacted by the General Assembly is frustrating the community and jeopardizing our officers as well.”

Besse, who is a Democrat, is challenging Republican incumbent Donny Lambeth for the House District 75 seat in November.

Some of the objections to releasing the video brought up by District Attorney Jim O’Neill include the privacy of the person killed by the police and the need to maintain the integrity of a potential criminal prosecution of Officer DE McGuire, who fired the fatal shot.

“Some of the issues that were brought up such as the intimate details of someone’s death — they were saying it was private information in that regard — that’s something that would never be resolved,” Blackwell observed. “It would always be private.”

City Attorney Angela Carmon told council members she believes it’s possible that the footage could be released at a later date.

“I would think that if the judge has provided a basis for not releasing or not disclosing the body-worn video, and once that stated basis expires… I would think the judge — if that is the case, if the reason for not releasing it is no longer valid — I would think the judge would release it at that point,” Carmon said. “I cannot guarantee that. Coming back with another motion and petition I would think would be heard.”

The shooting, which took place during a traffic stop on March 30, triggered three separate investigations: a criminal review by the NC State Bureau of Investigation, a criminal probe by the Winston-Salem Police Department, and an administrative investigation by the police department.

Scott Williams, special-agent-in-charge for the State Bureau of Investigation’s Northern Piedmont District, said agents have completed interviews and he anticipates that the agency will be able to submit a report to the district attorney in two weeks. However, an autopsy of McCrae could take two to four months. Capt. Steve Tolley, who oversees the criminal investigation division at the Winston-Salem Police Department, said the agency is still investigating whether there was a crime committed against Officer McGuire by the other occupants of the vehicle who were with McCrae.

Taylor said if District Attorney O’Neill does not release the video “in a timely manner,” he believes the city council will ask the city attorney to pursue release.

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