Ever since the introduction of body cameras, we have seen cops come up with all kinds of excuses as to why the cameras were turned off the moment the cop shot and killed somebody.
Now two Tennessee legislators are trying to pass a bill that would make it a felony to intentionally deactivate a body camera, punishable by up to two years in prison, according to WMC 5 Action News.
The bill is a response to an incident last year where four Memphis cops turned their body cams and dashcams off while they chased and shot a man named Martavious Banks.
Memphis police determined these cops violated departmental policy and issued suspensions for three officers, including one with a history of not turning the cameras on. The fourth cop, who pulled the trigger, resigned.
Prosecutors may choose to charge cops that turn body cameras off under the existing law in Tennessee addressing tampering with evidence.
But Representative G.A. Hardaway and State Senator Sara Kyle, both democrats, believe that law is very broad, allowing cops to skirt the law by claiming they were clueless about the it.
Under qualified immunity, cops are not expected to abide by the same laws they enforce. This bill would include language that would spell it out for them, making it harder to claim qualified immunity.
“We want them to know that we’re serious about justice,” representative G.A. Hardaway told WMC 5 Action News.
“It needs to be in the section that deals with recording devices so the police officers know what the law is pertaining to these recording devices some officers don’t even know what the level of prosecution is for intentionally interfering with those devices,” Hardaway said.
Lieutenant Charles Mowery, who arrived at the scene after the shooting, but kept his camera off, received a 5-day unpaid suspension.
Memphis police officers Michael Williams Jr. and Christopher Nowell, who turned their cameras off during the chase, each received 20-day unpaid suspensions. Williams Jr., was disciplined last year as well for deactivating his body camera, WMC 5 reported.
And Jamarcus Jeames, the cop who pulled the trigger, resigned.
The fact that these officers were disciplined at all shows a break from other departments, who only vow to introduce better “training” to remind cops not to turn their cameras off before killing citizens.
Last year, it was reported that 53 Memphis police officers violated departmental policy when it comes to body cameras with more than 20 reprimands issued, according to the Commercial Appeal.
Sergeant Matt Cunningham of the Memphis Police Association, the union that represents these officers, called the bill “counter-productive.”
“To add one more stressor to officers, we’ve had a lot of officers say this would be the straw that would break the camel’s back, and they would find another line of work,” said Cunningham.
The president of the police union is Michael Williams Sr., the father of Michael Williams Jr, the cop who was suspended for deactivating his body camera twice in two months.