On Saturday, HB 972—the bipartisan body-camera law that has come under heavy scrutiny since Charlotte police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott—went into effect. It should be reassuring to everyone, then, that a top Republican leader in the General Assembly doesn't seem to know how the law actually works.
In a September 28 appearance on Capital Tonight, House Speaker Tim Moore sat down with Tim Boyum to discuss the shooting and the new law. After Moore said HB 972 was a "great bill" and encouraged Charlotte to release the full video, Boyum asked Moore, "Once the law goes into effect, it would be up to a judge, and what if the judge decides not to release that video?"
"Actually, the police department still has the right to release the video under the new law," Moore responded. "What the law does is say, if the police department doesn't want to release it, it gives a mechanism to where you guys in the media or anyone else can petition a Superior Court judge to release the video."
- Illustration by Steve Oliva
"I wish that were the case," says state ACLU policy counsel Susanna Birdsong.
In addition to other problems associated with HB 972—including the near total discretion given to police departments over who gets to see the video—the new law bars police departments from giving copies of the video to anyone without a judge's approval.
"Under the law, the law enforcement agency no longer has the power or discretion to release the video to the public or the family or otherwise," Birdsong says. "They do still have discretion to show it to the person [on the video] or their personal representatives, [but those individuals] can't receive a copy of that. And the law enforcement agency has discretion whether or not to show it to them, so if a police chief wants to deny disclosure, even just coming in and seeing it, then that person would need a court order."
If anything, Birdsong adds, Moore's misstep shows how convoluted the law is. "That's where a lot of the confusion is coming in," Birdsong says. "It's led to perhaps Speaker Moore's confusion on the issue."