Houston, Texas mayor Sylvester Turner has released video that shows an African American man, who was recently fatally shot by police in the city, had a gun in his hand. However, despite this, activists are still unsatisfied with the body cameras worn by the police officers because the recordings do not fully capture what actually happened. Some are questioning the policy that governs the cameras use.
This footage showed 38-year-old Alva Braziel being approached by officers on July 9th after he had been shot. He clearly had a pistol in his right hand As he lay in the street on his back at the intersection of Cullen and Ward, his white T-shirt stained with blood, the officers assured him that an ambulance was on the way. Police later learned that Braziel was a felon who was not legally permitted to possess a firearm
The 18 minutes video was released on the Houston Police Department’s YouTube channel and also includes footage from the surveillance camera of a convenience store that captured the incident from far away. A clip that has been enlarged shows Braziel raising his hands in the air as a police vehicle pulls up and stops near him. It does seem as though his right hand begins to come down in the direction of the officers before shots were fired. That would seem consistent with the officer’s account that they instructed him to put the weapon down though.
Mayor Turner stated that he is unaware of any further footage of the incident, but wanted the public to see all that was available to prove that Braziel was armed and posed a danger to the cops who confronted him.
Mayor Turner stated that he wanted the public to see the footage in order to quash all of the inaccuracies that seemed to be growing via social media, as well as potential protests that could develop based on the false premise that the Houston Police Department had shot and killed an African American man who was unarmed.
On the video, you can hear the police officers saying they thought Braziel was flagging them down to make a report but for some reason pointed a gun at them. One officer later said in the same video after backup arrived that they instructed him to drop the weapon, and he pointed it at them again. That is when both officers claimed they shot at him.
A Sergeant then instructs one of the officers to call the Police Officer’s Union. A union representative—a fellow officer—also approaches the partners to make sure they have the Union’s number. Then something disturbing happens, separate and apart from the chilling scene of a dead man in the road. We get a glimpse into how the officers are being trained to operate these body cameras.
The union representative notices that the officers are still recording and tells one of them, “Cut off the camera when you can, so you’re not making statements.” The officer responds, “Oh. So we’re not supposed to be having conversation on camera, are we?” The rep shakes his head and responds, “No.”
Whether it is training from superiors or advice from the Union, someone has instructed these officers that they should not record conversations amongst fellow officers about what happened at a scene. Unfortunately, this is not a new revelation. I have reviewed hundreds and hundreds of scene recordings in cases where officers have cameras in their vehicles and a wireless microphone on their body. It is the norm, not an occasional event, to find that officers turn off their audio.
I imagine that the majority of the time the officers or witnesses in those situations said nothing that would help my client’s case. But what about the one time something is said that could have help an innocent person go free though? There is no reason for officers to arbitrarily decide when to turn their cameras or audio on and off. If they have the equipment, it should be recording. More often than not, what they capture will help the government’s case rather than hurt it—unless the officer is doing something wrong.
The situation with Alva Braziel provided an opportunity for law enforcement to strengthen their assertion that he was drawing his weapon on them. One officer approached a witness who happened to be Braziel’s nephew. While the officer attempted to talk the man into sticking around to provide his information, he started to tell the officer what he saw, but the officer walked away.
That was the perfect opportunity for the officer to record this man’s statement. He was in a state of shock after what he witnessed. The nephew seemingly did not have time to reflect and possibly add information to his version of the events to favor his uncle. We would have heard a reliable version of what he witnessed, good or bad for the officers, within moments of the event.
A prime example of when not turning off recording equipment could hurt the State occurred in my last trial. The State Trooper who arrested my client for DWI left his microphone on while at the jail. We could hear what was occurring inside the breath testing room, and I realized that the Trooper did not follow legally required procedures to administer the test. The judge agreed, threw the test results out, and the State dismissed the case. Because of that audio the judge was able to follow the law, and my client got his life back.
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