HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — While far more states than not have established at least some guidance regarding the release of video footage, most states don’t explicitly require the release. But there’s no law in Alabama governing the practice.
Across the country, different states have different requirements regarding the release of body camera footage. In California, it’s required for the video to be released to the public no later than 45 days after the recording. Other states, such as Florida and North Dakota are required to provide the footage under public records laws.
In Alabama, no legislation makes it mandatory but civil rights lawyer Hank Sherrod says there’s still a law. “The law in Alabama is clear that if there is not an ongoing investigation, no criminal charges,” says Sherrod. “Public records, like video footage, should be available to the public.”
Sherrod, who has filed a number of suits against law enforcement agencies over excessive force and abuse claims, says the law doesn’t have many mechanisms for enforcement.
“Unfortunately, right now you have to go to court and hire lawyers and spend money to be able to enforce your right,” he says.
It’s only been a little more than a week since the officer-involved shooting outside Planet Fitness.
“This early in the process, there’s probably a legitimate reason for them to hold off producing it,” says Sherrod. “Once the routine investigation is completed, video should be available as a public record.”
The community has the power to keep government officials accountable. “Community outrage, protests, can have an impact,” says Sherrod. “They can change the minds of mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs.”
Sherrod says passing legislation to urge accountability should be simple and the public should encourage it.
“The legislation needs to address a lot of things,” he said. “This would be something simple that would benefit people who care about good government.”
The president of the Huntsville/Madison County chapter of the NAACP, Jerry Burnet, says citizens have the ability to bring change.
“Register and vote,” says Burnet. “Because it’s the vote in the end of the day, it’s the vote that makes all the difference in the world. That’s how you put legislators in office, that’s how you get bills passed, that’s how you get laws on the book.”