Investigation shows access to some police body cam videos difficult

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Cameras don't lie — that's the thought behind what police body cameras can reveal about officers' interaction with the public.

William Perkins wanted the video to be seen when he says some Memphis Police officers roughed him up after he crossed a police scene on North Lauderdale last February.

"I was trying to protect myself. That's when they took me to the ground and start beating me. They beat me worse than Rodney King," Perkins said.

But it turns out the officer who hit Perkins in the face didn't have his police body camera on at the time.

A police report said Perkins got a black eye and scrapes when he was hit by the officer. According to the report, video from another officer's body cam shows Officer Wheeler delivering two closed hand strikes to the left side of Perkins face causing him to stop resisting.

"They grabbed me like this here. Threw me down to the ground like that. Then the police start beating me like that," Perkins said, demonstrating the  attack.

WREG requested the body cam video from other officers on the scene. It shows the officers taking Perkins to the ground and punching him as he is down. They officers also said Perkins had a knife, which he admits, saying it was a box cutter he used for work.

When Perkins saw the video, he felt vindicated that police over-reacted.

"I can't see nobody putting they hands on me like that when they already on the ground. You beating me like that. How can they justify that," he said.

But getting access to this video, which is the purpose of having body cameras, wasn't easy, even for us as members of the media.

Police charged us $146 for a few short clips. It was less than the initial cost they quoted us to see all active body cam video in cases where officers were directly engaged with a citizen and did not have their own body camera recording. They said that would cost $15,000 dollars to produce.

"It's a common response of the City and Police Department to deter the release of public information," said Josh Spickler, Executive Director of Just City, a community advocacy organization in Memphis.

Spickler believes the cost for access to body camera footage is about more than just the labor to put the video together.

"If you are gonna have body cameras, one thing you are gonna have to do is to release body camera footage to the public. Returning an information request with a price tag of $10,000 is not acceptable," says Spickler. "They have the ability to process this information. Short of an abusive request, it should be made available. "

The city, police and the district attorney went back and forth for months implementing a policy on how body camera footage would be made available to the public.

But access remains a touchy issue, brought under even more scrutiny after it was revealed there had been more than 40 incidents where police body cameras were not recording during police interactions with the public.

Police Director Mike Rallings explained it like this:

"We think some of it is a training issue, where officers need more training. The officers know we are gonna pay attention and make sure they apply with policy."

But at a time when transparency is the goal, showing what the camera catches can go a long way in easing public angst.

"Whether it's a malfunction or a conscious decision to turn them off, now we don't have that evidence. We don't have the thing that was promised when we implemented these body cameras several years ago," said Spickler. "Police have to do one thing. Just be open, open and transparent with the community it is protecting."

Perkins says he went to Internal Affairs and then the Civilian Law enforcement Review Board about his case.

He says both of them sided with the officers. But he also claims CLERB Board member never saw the clip of video that WREG obtained.

The president of CLERB says since police body cams were implemented they have been given access to the video in cases and it does weigh heavily on how they rule.