Public sentiment has shifted.
When it comes to the public release of potential evidence of police brutality, no longer will the public tolerate efforts by law enforcement to keep such evidence secret.
The George Floyd killing in Minnesota took care of that. The Daniel Prude case in Rochester took care of that. The shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home in Kentucky took care of that.
No more are police and prosecutors given the benefit of the doubt when someone accuses an officer of improper conduct. No longer are suspects automatically assumed to be completely at fault.
So it is with the case of police body-cam video showing a criminal suspect being attacked by a police dog in Schenectady during a drug arrest in 2019.
The suspect, Ramel Gentry, was apparently face down and handcuffed when the dog attacked his neck and face. He was awarded a $225,000 settlement by the city.
Certainly the public should be able to view the video of the incident, seeing as it involves a case of police brutality (in this case a dog under police control) and a sizable financial settlement ultimately paid for by taxpayers.
But county District Attorney Robert Carney, who secured a court order preventing its release, claims it would compromise police undercover operations. The arrest was related to a narcotics buy involving a confidential informant.
On Monday, the city formally denied The Gazette’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the footage.
In the past, that would have been the end of it. But under current conditions, the public can’t let this pass.
We understand the district attorney’s reluctance to have the video made public. And we respect the exemption in FOIL related to ongoing police investigations.
We also know there are technical ways to edit a videotape to obscure faces or vehicles and to alter voices to protect police operations, while allowing the public to view the incident in question. Maybe they don’t need to show the whole tape, but just the relevant portions showing the attack.
We don’t even know whether the tape will shed new light on the incident or whether it will show wrongdoing on the part of police. But the courts need to demand that officials make the release of that tape acceptable, and ensure the public has an opportunity to decide for itself.
The release of such evidence in other cases has resulted in public pressure for greater accountability, more training and revision of police policies, as well as inspired constructive dialogue between law enforcement and the public. That only comes about with greater transparency.
Where in the past we would take law enforcement’s word on such an incident, we are at a place now where secrecy is no longer a legitimate response.