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Baltimore Police to release first body camera footage of shooting by officers

Baltimore Police say they plan to release the first body camera footage to capture shooting by officers

In a first for the city, Baltimore police say they plan to release body camera footage this week that captures an officer shooting a suspect.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said footage of the shooting of a knife-wielding man in Waverly on Friday would be released "likely by midweek."

About 600 city officers have been equipped with cameras since the department launched the $11.6 million program in May, part of a national movement to put cameras on officers as several high-profile shootings have brought increased scrutiny to police actions.

But the question of when to release such footage has been contentious, and in Baltimore, little footage has been seen by the public.

There have been 11 shootings by Baltimore police this year. Police have said none until Friday had been captured by body camera.

City prosecutors, who have objected to the release of evidence in pending cases, did not directly answer when asked whether they supported or opposed the release of Friday's video.

"The State's Attorney's Office understands the importance of transparency in our fight against crime," the office said in a statement in response to questions Monday. "However, commenting or releasing evidence in open or pending investigations could compromise the judicial process and jeopardize the integrity of cases."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said releasing the footage was consistent with the City Council's expectations for how the cameras would be used.

"It's about being transparent between the police and the public," said Clarke, who represents the area where Friday's shooting took place. "I'm pleased it's happening with such speed. It doesn't do any good to have video if the public can't see it and if the officers can't see it."

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Friday that officers were called to the 3300 block of Greenmount Ave. about 9:30 a.m. in response to a 911 report of a 48-year-old man with knives in each hand threatening people on the sidewalk.

Three uniformed officers issued commands for the man to drop the knives, Davis said, but he did not. Davis said the officers used a Taser on him to no effect.

Two officers fired their weapons, hitting the man several times. They were identified as Officer Gary Brown, a 16-year veteran, and Officer Supreme Jones, who joined the department in 2014.

One witness told The Baltimore Sun that the officers had no choice but to fire. Another questioned their actions.

Davis praised the officers.

"I'm so proud of these officers, the way they responded to the scene, the way that they attempted to de-escalate," he said. "Unfortunately, that didn't work."

The man, who has not been identified, was initially said to be in critical condition, but police said Monday his condition had stabilized. He remains hospitalized and has not been charged with a crime, Smith said.

After the shooting, passers-by chanted a profane criticism of the police. A few protesters gathered at the scene Saturday for a demonstration.

The shooting was the second in four days by city police. In the first, police said, several officers were at the scene but none had body cameras.

In July, one of four officers involved in a fatal shooting in West Baltimore was wearing a body camera, police said, but he did not have time to activate it.

The release of body camera footage, like the closed-circuit surveillance camera footage that has been around for more than a decade, is governed by the Maryland Public Information Act. That law gives agencies wide latitude to withhold materials while an investigation is continuing.

State law does not include exemptions specifically for body camera footage.

That means authorities decide whether to release footage, and they have done so occasionally. In February 2015, police released surveillance footage of a police shooting involving a man who charged at the officer without apparent provocation.

They also released footage in April from inside a liquor store where an off-duty officer fatally shot a man who had pulled out what was later determined to be a replica gun.

A man who claimed to be a witness said the officer had shot the man in the street. The video showed that the shooting occurred inside the store.

Other times, police may release images or clips in an attempt to identify a suspect in crimes not involving officers.

Last month, The Baltimore Sun was denied body camera footage of a gun arrest. Wayne Brooks, a legal affairs assistant for the Baltimore Police Department, said prosecutors had cautioned against the release of video.

"They strongly advise that we do not make a practice of releasing arrest videos when charges are pending and an investigation is still being conducted," Brooks wrote in a letter of denial. "They feel this practice could possibly tamper the investigation and the pending trial."

Prosecutors have closed investigations of three shootings by police this year, finding that the officers were justified in their actions. The rest of the cases are pending.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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