Fact Check: Here's Democrat Jeff Jackson's Record On Police Bodycam Law
In this week's fact check, we turn our attention to next year’s race for U.S. Senate. Democratic candidate and current state Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte recently tweeted he was one of two state senators in 2016 to vote against a law regulating the release of police bodycam video. Jackson posted the tweet after a judge refused to allow the release of bodycam footage in the fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City last month. WRAL’s Paul Specht joins us to assess Jackson's claim.
Marshall Terry: First, Paul, what law is Jackson referring to here? And what does it do?
Paul Specht: He's referring to a law that was enacted through House Bill 972. That came up through the legislature in 2016. And what it essentially did was state for the record that police bodycam footage is not public record. It is not something that you can request like, say, a city councilman's emails, for instance.
And what it did was it gave a process by which some people could request the video if they're in the video or if a family member of theirs is in the video. You had to have certain standing to request the ability to view it. And then if there was any pushback or any disagreement over what the person with standing is able to see, that would go to a superior court judge who would have discretion over the footage and who got to see what.
Terry: What was the law on bodycam footage before?
Specht: Well, part of the reason that legislators wanted to pass H.B. 972 was that the law wasn't exactly clear on this issue. At the time, bodycams were sort of a new technology for police. And even if that camera on their shoulder is fairly simple technology, a lot of police and law enforcement agencies didn't have the servers to keep that footage, so there wasn't a lot on the books about it just because it didn't exist at the time — at least not widespread. But UNC legal experts wrote at the time that the law that existed was sort of unclear. It said that the public had no right to the recordings, but it also said the law enforcement agency could release them at its discretion.
Terry: Now, was Jackson right when he said that he was one of only two state senators to vote against the law in 2016?
Specht: He is, actually. This was sort of a simple fact check. Anyone can go do this. We went to ncleg.gov, and you can look up any lawmaker's vote. And so we pulled up this bill and just looked up how the state Senate voted at the time. He's one of only two people to vote against it. In fact, the other was a Republican who's no longer in the legislature.
Here's what's going on with police body camera footage in NC and why it's become such an issue in the case of Andrew Brown:— Sen. Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC) May 3, 2021
In 2016, then Gov. McCrory signed HB 972 into law. It had passed the state Senate 48-2.
I was one of the 2 who voted against it.
Terry: What was Jackson's reason for voting against it?
Specht: He said at the time that he thought it would muddy the situation, and he talked about this on the campaign trail that year. In fact, he was in a debate and he talked about how, you know, if you were in a situation where you were mistreated by police after being stopped for a speeding ticket, for example, you might still face obstacles to seeing the video footage that you were in. And so he just wanted more transparency on the issue, which is why he voted against it.
Terry: One of the state senators who voted in favor of the law was Democrat Erica Smith. She's one of Jackson's opponents in next year's race. Now, if a lawmaker did vote in favor of the 2016 law, does that mean he or she supported everything about it?
Specht: No. No, it doesn't. And while this was a straightforward fact check, what made this interesting for us was that Jackson and Erica Smith are opponents in the U.S. Senate primary race. Smith has actually been down in Elizabeth City speaking to people there and even speaking at rallies about the need for more transparency and accountability. And so that's part of what got our attention was Jackson saying that he was the lone opponent of this law. Meanwhile, we have Smith down in Elizabeth City being very vocal about her opposition to how things are working out down there.
So, that obviously led us to ask Smith, like, "Hey, why did you vote in favor of this 2016 law?" And she sent us a statement. She pointed out that almost the entire Democratic caucus voted for this in the state Senate. And she focused on some of the positives that had been done — that people could see bodycams and dashcams and that those would remain on.
But she wanted to have a process for releasing footage. She thought it was too restrictive, and she thinks that it still needs to be reformed, but at the time, she said, she wanted to just take a step toward creating a system where people could view this footage. Obviously, they would have to go through this process, and she says the legislation is "flawed." Those are her words. But she said, "We had aspirations of returning to (this bill) and improving it."
Terry: Well, let's circle back around to what we started with: the claim by Jeff Jackson. How did you rate that claim?
Specht: Well, the claim was pretty simple. He said he was one of two state senators who voted against North Carolina's body camera law. That's true. This fact check has Jackson's comments and his record, Erica Smith's record and her comments, and so people will have this fact check as a resource if this comes up on the campaign trail.
Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.
Specht: Thank you.