The Mobile City Council voted unanimously to allow Mayor Sandy Stimpson to seek an Attorney General’s opinion on certain aspects of the Mobile Police Department’s body camera policy, after already releasing that policy when a local media outlet filed suit for it earlier this year.
The city will be seeking clarification from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on whether it can release body camera footage when minors are involved, or while the footage is part of an ongoing investigation.
According to city attorney Ricardo Woods, the city also seeks to clarify whether MPD’s body camera policy is considered public information accessible through the state’s open records act.
Referring to the policy itself, Councilman Fred Richardson said there are contradictory statements that encourage officers to turn on cameras during all interactions with the public, but also contend it’s up to the individual officer’s discretion.
Richardson asked that the city fix the language in the policy before sending the questions to Marshall’s office.
At a pre-conference meeting Wednesday, councilors discussed rules allowing residents to sign in to speak about the body camera issue. Council President Gina Gregory said it was important to keep speakers on the subject of the legal questions surrounding the attorney general’s opinion. Councilman Joel Daves agreed.
“It’s about asking the attorney general about body cameras,” he said. “ … “It doesn’t have anything else to do with body cameras.”
Richardson argued that the policy itself was on the agenda and it was important then to allow those who sign up to speak to discuss the policy if they choose.
“They may want to ask about policy and that is allowed,” he said.
Richardson then asked that City Clerk Lisa Lambert read the entire resolution to his council colleagues. He later pointed out that the policy itself was mentioned in the resolution.
“It mentions policy, but it does not debate policy,” Gregory responded.
WALA Fox10 recently filed suit against the city over its failure to release footage from last September of a MPD officer’s interactions with McGill-Toolen Catholic High School students following the annual football rivalry game between McGIll-Toolen and Murphy High School.
Scott Flanagan, news director at WALA, cited the September incident in comments he made during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
In reference to the city’s request to have Marshall’s office rule on releasing footage of minors, Flanagan reminded councilors that the incident in question happened on a city street in public and the minors had no expectation of privacy in that scenario.
He also said the station would blur the faces of the minors on the video anyway.
Flanagan also questioned if the McGill-Toolen incident was considered to still be under investigation, even after then-Chief James Barber apologized. Flanagan said he feared an investigation might be ongoing forever.
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