The city released body camera footage from a 2016 incident that resulted in several teenagers being pepper-sprayed by a Mobile Police officer, though the grainy, soundless recording offers little insight into the officer’s actions.
As Lagniappe previously reported, the Meredith Corp., the parent company of WALA Fox 10 news, proved victorious in a lawsuit seeking the release of the body camera footage earlier this month.
It ended a year-long legal battle and left the city with 14 days to release the footage to the public.
Though the officers involved have never been identified, the recording shows what police drove up on when the arrived at the “midtown cannon” near the intersection the Houston Street and Government Boulevard in September 2016.
Students from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School can be seen gathering around the cannon, which has been painted with the winning school’s colors following McGill’s annual football game against neighborhood rival Murphy High School for years.
A group of young girls can be seen crossing the road and leaving as the police officer wearing the body camera pulls up, while dozens of others are seen sitting on or standing around the cannon itself. The officer who used pepper spray is only seen in the corner of the footage released to the public on Monday and only for a few seconds.
Based on the limited footage, it doesn’t seem like the teenagers hit with the pepper spray were in direct confrontation with the officer or disobeying his orders. In fact, most of the students appear to have their backs to the officer when he deploys the pepper spray.
NBC 15 has made the entire footage available here.
What led up to the incident remains unclear, but Public Safety Director James Barber, who was police chief at the time, has previously said the officers were dealing with “an unusually large amount of rowdy kids.”
However, he ultimately apologized for the incident and said students weren’t given enough time to comply with the responding officers’ orders before they used pepper spray.
The city subsequently confirmed the officer “failed to follow procedure when using pepper spray.” He has since been disciplined for his actions.
How the city will handle requests to release body camera footage in the future remains unclear for now. While Mobile County Circuit Judge Rick Stout ordered the footage from the McGill incident be made public, he emphasized that his ruling would not require all MPD body camera footage to be made public going forward.
“This ruling should not be construed so as to have any precedential value for courts in this circuit or elsewhere in determining the validity or sufficiency of any other request for public writings — including other requests for body-worn camera footage from the city of Mobile — as each specific request must be analyzed in accordance with the exceptions provided by statute and in the balancing test set [by the courts],” Stout’s order reads.