MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If a police officer shoots someone in Nashville, the police department can release the officer’s body camera video in matter of hours.
“We own the cameras and we own the video,” said Don Aaron, public relations manager for the Nashville Police Department.
In Memphis, Shelby County, and basically all of Tennessee, video of an officer-involved shooting can take almost a year or longer to be released to the public.
Why the difference on such a hot button issue? It is in the memoranda of understanding between Nashville Police, the District Attorney there, and the TBI.
The memoranda of understanding (MOU) for Nashville states the police department can release the video after consulting with prosecutors even if the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation hasn’t finished their investigation.
Nashville has the distinction of being the only MOU in Tennessee that has such language. Without a MOU local law enforcement and/or the DA can not release video until the TBI has finished their investigation.
Memphis, the Shelby County Sherriff’s Office and District Attorney Amy Weirich have the only other MOU with TBI in the state. It makes no mention of video. In turn, video of an officer-involved shooting can only be released after the TBI finishes its investigation and the district attorney has decided no charges will be filed against the officer or it is introduced as evidence in court.
Why did Nashville create their MOU the way they did?
“We want transparency with a capital “T”, said Aaron.
Memphis State Representative G.A. Hardaway says he wants the same thing. He told FOX13 the process to release the police video needs to move quicker.
“We know it works by providing transparency which engages the community,” said Hardaway.
FOX13 sent both the Nashville and Memphis/Shelby County MOU to Memphis City Councilman Martavius Jones. He told us the Memphis agreement needs to be more like Nashville’s.
The reason? “Because to me it provides more transparency,” said Jones.
FOX13 emailed Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich’s office to ask if she believed the MOU in Shelby County needs to be changed. It is an agreement she helped create.
A spokesman replied with a statement that reads in part … “under the law, I cannot legally or ethically release bits and pieces of evidence – including body-camera videos - to the public until my prosecutorial function is over.”
That isn’t entirely accurate. With a new MOU the DA’s office absolutely can release video just like Nashville does.
Representative Hardaway isn’t waiting on Weirich to change anything. He told FOX13 he will introduce legislation that will allow district attorneys across the state to have the option to release the video regardless of the TBI probe but notes he shouldn’t have to, “The pressure needs to come from the mayor, the city council and the county commission” said Hardaway. Bottom line, if local law enforcement and the DA agree to a new MOU that allows for video to be released prior to TBI finishing an investigation, the video can and will be released.
Cox Media Group