SC family wants police footage of son’s shooting death released
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Lowcountry family wants the body-worn camera footage depicting their son’s death to be released publicly.
Police officers in South Carolina are required to wear body cameras on their uniforms. It’s a law that’s meant to increase transparency. But the lawmaker behind the original bill, says the law isn’t working the way he meant it to.
Bobbie Lowther had a perpetual coffee and morning news date with her son, 35-year-old Junnie Williams, each day.
“Got my coffee, noticed he wasn’t in yet,” she recalls. “He’ll be here.”
Their tradition stopped forever one morning in January. Williams was shot and killed by North Charleston Police as they were investigating a car break-in along Crossroads Drive on Jan. 16.
“I heard the shots,” Lowther said. “I felt it. I said, ‘That was my son.’”
The shooting happened just a block and a half from their home. His family knows he had a gun on him, and tried to run.
The two officers’ body-worn cameras should be an objective look at what happened. But both of them fell off, the solicitor’s report states, leaving the family with just the sounds of their son’s final moments.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard sponsored the 2015 bill that required body cameras. It came right after Walter Scott was shot and killed by a then-North Charleston Police Officer. A bystander caught video of the shooting.
“One thing I always tell people is cameras don’t lie,” Gilliard says.
An issue with the current law is that what the body camera sees and records can remain in the dark, away from the public’s eye. By state law, investigators, lawyers, suspects, and people in the video can request to get them, but the general public cannot.
“People should have the right to video recordings. Nothing is wrong with that,” Gilliard says. “If we don’t have anything to hide, why even question it?”
Sometimes, police agencies do release the footage, but it’s only if that’s what they want.
Most law enforcement agencies say they make that call on a case-by-case basis, and most of their reasons for not releasing footage center on maintaining the integrity of their investigations.
But in this case, the investigation is over.
Solicitor Scarlet Wilson announced in late March that the police officers acted reasonably and that there isn’t enough proof that they committed any crime. In a letter to North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess, Wilson did note that both officers’ body-worn cameras “fell off,” that a deployed taser did not deliver an electric charge, and that only one probe struck Williams, while the other probe struck one of the officers.
She also wrote that the body camera video should be released.
North Charleston Deputy Chief Ken Hagge said that the video of the shooting is not being released at the family’s request.
The Lowthers say that’s not true.
“What my wife said was, ‘If you’re going to release, we need to know first,’” Jody Lowther, Williams’ stepfather, says. “I want the full tape played. I want [the public] to hear from front to rear everything that happened that night.”
Subsequent emails to North Charleston Police asking if, based on the family’s wishes, they had any plans to release the footage. Those emails were not answered.
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