City of Huntsville still unwilling to commit to release of body cam footage after years of denials

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Huntsville City Attorney Trey Riley said city policy regarding release of police body cam videos is that it's generally not done – but there could be exceptions.

WHNT News 19 has made a number of requests for body cam videos, including in a number of officer-involved shootings, but each request has been denied by the City of Huntsville.

Riley’s remarks followed an incident over the weekend where a bystander’s video appears to show a Huntsville Police Department officer punching a suspect in the back while trying to make an arrest.

The city has declined to release police video from the incident. Riley sought to outline the city’s policy on the release of body cam footage, but questions remain.

WHNT contends the body cam footage is a public record.

We asked the city attorney today if the footage is covered under Alabama’s Open Records Law.

“They are a public record to a certain extent,” Riley said. “They are not a public record in the sense what is stated in that law that says 'public records are open to public scrutiny.'"

Riley said the records are covered under state law, but says that doesn’t mean the footage is “automatically available.”

Riley stressed the city is unlikely to release body cam footage during a criminal case that is ongoing.

“Body cam policy is as long as there is a criminal investigation ongoing, the general rule is we’re not going to release that video,” he said. “We’re just not going to do it.”

Riley specifically said the need for strict policy stems from the fact the city does not want to treat videos differently based on whether they make city employees look good or bad. However, he did add to his assertion that city policy is not to release video during active criminal investigations.

“There may be exceptions to that rule,” Riley said, “there may be circumstances that arise, but there are so many different combinations and permutations of things that can present us, that we can’t have a hard and fast rule that says, ‘We will release body cam, we won’t release body cam video.’”

He also refused to commit to releasing video if a criminal case is over, or from an incident where a person encounters police but is never charged. He cited the possibility of potential civil claims arising from the same incident or the privacy of individuals.

Riley denied the described policy is contrary to the city’s goal of greater transparency dating back to when the cameras were first introduced in 2016. Riley said the public can see the videos if a case goes to trial, but then acknowledged most cases don’t go to trial.

Following today’s interview, WHNT News 19 again requested body cam footage from the April 3 incident on Deramus Avenue, where a man called 911 and reported he was suicidal. Jeffery Louis Parker, 49, was killed by by an officer after one of the multiple officers on scene fired a single fatal shot, according to the Huntsville Police Department.

The officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the police department. That occurred on May 8.

On May 9 the City of Huntsville denied WHNT News 19's request to release the body cam video of the incident.