A Mecklenburg County judge has ordered the release of the full 11-minute body camera video related to the fatal police shooting of 27-year-old Danquirs Franklin last month.
Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell said at a hearing Tuesday that video from officer Wende Kerl’s body-cam would be released at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Franklin was shot by Kerl on March 25 at a Burger King off Beatties Ford Road. Shortly following the shooting, members of the media began petitioning the court for the release of body-cam footage of the incident.
[Related Content: What We Know About The Shooting Of Danquirs Franklin]
A judge ordered CMPD to release the video last week, leading the department to send out two minutes and 20 seconds of footage from Kerl’s camera.
It shows Kerl and another officer — later identified as officer Larry Deal — approaching Franklin in the Burger King parking lot. The officers walk toward Franklin, who seems to be armed, with their guns drawn. They command him at least 24 times to drop his weapon. The video shows Franklin moving his right hand, appearing to hold a gun with the butt facing outward and the barrel facing himself.
Kerl — who CMPD says “perceived an imminent, deadly threat” — fires two shots at Franklin while his hands move.
The video shows Franklin slowly slumping to the ground while appearing to say to officers, “You told me to…” The footage abruptly ends with Kerl moving toward Franklin’s body and picking up a black gun from the ground.
Kerl’s camera captured at least 11 minutes of footage, far more than what CMPD released to the public. Last week, CMPD requested permission from the court to release the rest of the footage.
WBTV’s Nick Ochsner filed a motion to bring the police department to court to explain why it withheld the additional footage, leading to Tuesday’s hearing. Petitions from CMPD and the Charlotte Observer were also considered at today's hearing.
What was expected to be a relatively short hearing between WBTV reporter Nick Ochsner and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, turned into a several hour affair.
Today, Ochsner and other media outlets asked Judge Lisa Bell to order CMPD to release the full footage and to know why the Charlotte City Council was allowed to see the full footage when the public was only privy to the shortened version.
WFAE's Sarah Delia was in the courtroom for the hearing. Here she talks with All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey about the day's events.
MARK RUMSEY: Sarah what did Judge Lisa Bell ultimately rule on the release of the video?
SARAH DELIA: After hearing both sides argue for several hours today, Judge Bell ultimately ruled that the 11-minute footage should be released to the petitioners and the public. Nick Ochsner and his lawyer Mike Tadych argued that the 2 minute and 20 second video didn’t full the original order. Ochsner wanted to know why the police only gave this small portion of the video over and he also wanted to know why city council was allowed to view the full video before the public—which is also more footage than the public was allowed to see.
RUMSEY: Well why did CMPD say they only released the short version to the public?
DELIA: Jessica Battle who represented the city of Charlotte said she believed CMPD fulfilled the order based on Ocshner’s wording.
Ochsner asked for "any body camera footage or alternative any other law enforcement agency recording of the shooting [that] exists it is in the public interest to release the footage to document what took place in the moments leading up to, during, and immediately after the shooting."
It was that word "immediately" that Battle kept repeating. She pointed out that the video didn’t stop right after Franklin was shot.
Ochsner said he used the word immediately because he didn’t want a time gap between the shooting and then the video jumping in time to footage wouldn’t necessarily be relevant.
Judge Bell also pushed Battle on the interpretation of the word immediately, and to what portion of the video CMPD was applying it to.
DELIA: So in this case, it appears CMPD was choosing how to define immediately in length of time, which is pretty subjective. Judge Bell also said had the court received all the video evidence the first time the petition was heard, this hearing could have been avoided. The court only ever saw the 2 minute and 20 second video, until Judge Bell reviewed it this week.
RUMSEY: Who else was in the courtroom today?
DELIA: Well it’s not unusual for lawyers to be in a courtroom, but today there were a lot. You had attorneys for both sides as well as John Buchan, who was representing the Charlotte Observer. The newspaper had filed a petition of their own for the release of video footage. The lawyers for both Officer Wende Kerl and Officer Larry Deal were present, as well as an attorney for the state of North Carolina.
And an interesting point, as the hearing progressed, Jessica Battle - who was representing the city - said CMPD would be open to releasing 6 minutes and 35 seconds of the video, but not the full video. The reasoning was there was concern that the rest of the footage could cause potential legal problems for Officer Kerl if criminal charges are pursued.
Jeremey Smith, who represents Kerl, was heard by the court. He said originally he didn’t want any of the video released but now that a portion of it had been, not releasing the full footage would be more damaging to his client. The only thing he asked be redacted was the phone number of one of Kerl’s family members that is apparently heard or seen in the video.
RUMSEY: Anyone else in the courtroom of note?
Police Chief Kerr Putney was not only there, but was called to testify about his understanding of how the city council was able to view the entire footage of Kerl’s bodycam.
Putney was asked by Ochsner’s counsel if he knew how city council came to view the full body cam footage of officer Kerl. He said he did. He said he was directed by the City Manager Marcus Jones to disclose the video to the city council. Putney said he had some concerns, and said the response from Jones was that the city attorney Patrick Baker had said it was ok to do.
RUMSEY: Well did the court rule it was wrong for the city council to see that footage ahead of time and in its full length?
DELIA: Judge Bell said it was ok. The reason being it was just disclosed. Had council been given a copy of the video, that would have been problematic.
RUMSEY: And when do we expect the video to be released?
DELIA: The judge has asked that CMPD go through and blur the appropriate faces — members of the public who may appear later in the video. It should be available tomorrow at 5 p.m. to the petitioners and the public.