Bill advances to allow quicker release of police body camera videos

First Published      Last Updated Mar 07 2017 01:39 pm

Quicker release of videos from police body cameras in high-profile cases may be allowed by a bill passed Monday by the Utah House — coming after long fights over footage from a shooting last year of a teen near the Rio Grande homeless shelter.

The House voted 71-0 to pass HB381, and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

It would allow direct appeals to district court if police or prosecutors deny an open-records request for such footage by asserting it is protected "solely on the grounds of a pending criminal action."

Its sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said a judge could then quickly weigh whether public interest in the release of footage — possibly to calm claims of police brutality — outweighs protecting it for criminal action.

Ray said the bill could have led to quicker release of video about the shooting of Somali refugee Abdullahi "Abdi" Mohamed, who survived but was put in a medically induced coma and hospitalized for weeks. The shooting led people around the homeless shelter to attack police with bottles and rocks.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued for access to the footage, but was denied and appeals took time. The video was not seen for nearly a year, when it was finally shown in court.

Body-camera footage recorded the police yelling, "Put it down," "Drop it," "Police" multiple times before shots were fired.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill later ruled the two Salt Lake City police officers involved in the shooting were justified in their actions.

The bill is supported by the ACLU and the Utah Media Coalition.