Randolph County Superior Judge Brad Long should make public the video footage of Courtland Smith’s shooting.
The public deserves to examine the circumstances surrounding Smith’s death, especially when law enforcement officials were involved.
County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Gregson has asserted that the release of this evidence could taint a jury pool in the event of a trial.
But this video is not an inflammatory statement of opinion; it’s fact.
In other cases involving the possible tainting of a jury pool, such as the now-infamous Duke lacrosse case, the district attorney involved in the case made public comments that might have swayed media coverage and public perception.
In contrast, the dashboard camera simply captures the raw footage of the incident. Its release would do nothing more than give the citizens of North Carolina the information necessary to come to an intelligent, informed conclusion about the officers’ conduct.
And if the footage could somehow taint the opinion of potential jury members, the trial can be moved to another location.
Gregson also argues that the video’s release could hamper the ongoing investigation.
But the investigation centers on the conduct of the officers, and they already know what happened. In fact, they’re the only witnesses.
Releasing the videotape does nothing more than make all the indisputable facts of the case open for the public to scrutinize.
It is difficult to understand how that could hamper an investigation into the facts.
The North Carolina State Bar’s rules for professional conduct discuss the limitations of disseminating evidence to the public that might prejudice the proceedings of a trial.
However, the rules also stress the need to take into account the public good, especially in matters of general public concern.
A decision to release the tape most certainly falls into the category of the public good.
The death of any young person is a difficult situation. Some people will consider efforts to release a video of the shooting of one of our students tasteless and unnecessary.
But the public needs to know how and why a law enforcement official shot a young man.
It is our right to demand transparency in the actions of our public servants, and we are simply exercising it.
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