In striking body cam and dash cam footage Lagniappe obtained from federal court filings last week, viewers get a 1-hour, 8-minute look behind the scenes of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) on May 12, 2017, as they responded to reports of a distressed and possibly armed driver, who was stuck in the mud along Interstate 10’s median.
As has been partially broadcast by BCSO in the past, the footage also captures the moment 35-year-old Jonathan Victor emerged from his vehicle, acting erratically and pointing toward first responders “with something in his hands.” It also recorded a minute later, when Cpl. Matt Hunady shouted the last of many warnings to “put it down” before firing four shots at Victor from his semi-automatic rifle, from roughly 7 yards away. Deputies later determined Victor was holding a jacket and a fanny pack. He died from his wounds in a hospital.
Defense attorneys representing Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack and now-Sgt. Hunady in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Victor’s mother submitted the exhibits to U.S. District Court this month, along with a motion to dismiss the case arguing no constitutional violations were committed. Coincidentally, the same video footage is also the subject of a separate civil lawsuit — one filed by Lagniappe against BCSO in February 2019 — after a request for public records was denied.The public records case is currently pending in the Alabama Supreme Court, where attorneys for both parties met last July to deliver oral arguments about whether the request was properly filed with BCSO. Before the case was appealed, Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Scott Taylor ruled because the videos and other materials were turned over to the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit (MCU) during its investigation of the shooting, BCSO was not the custodial guardian of the records. At the Supreme Court, attorneys also argued about whether the videos are subject to public disclosure or whether they may remain sealed, subject to a state law declaring law enforcement investigative materials aren’t public records.
Randy McNeill, an attorney representing Mack and Hunady in the federal case, said he obtained the videos from MCU.
“I got the records from the task force group; I didn’t get them from the sheriff’s office,” he said. “I may have even issued a subpoena and got them.”
Lagniappe’s attorneys said the disclosure of the videos in the federal case should not affect a pending decision from the Supreme Court in the state case.
While clear evidence of constitutional violations may not be immediately apparent, the videos and exhibits themselves go far beyond what BCSO and other law enforcement officials disclosed in public statements about the shooting. According to the narrative put out during an October 2017 news conference announcing Hunady had been cleared of wrongdoing by the grand jury, “the use of deadly force by Cpl. Hunady to protect himself and numerous others from an apparent deadly threat was entirely justified.”
During the news conference, the media was shown a roughly 3-minute clip from two videos: Hunady’s body cam, and cell phone video recorded by a motorist. But aside from Victor’s failure to comply with demands and his erratic behavior while holding an unknown object, the public was given little information about the circumstances that led to the shooting. At one point, Baldwin County District Attorney Bob Wilters and Gulf Shores Police Chief Ed Delmore, chairman of MCU, suggested Victor was under the influence of Ketamine. In fact, evidence later indicated the Ketamine in Victor’s toxicology report was administered by paramedics trying to stabilize him after he had been shot.
The full videos, along with depositions and witness statements submitted into federal court this month, are less conclusive. When first responders initially called for BCSO to assist with a case of a distressed motorist, information from the scene indicated Victor was behaving erratically and “may have a weapon on his lap.” Despite subsequent dispatches expressing more uncertainty about Victor’s status, the call was labeled as a “10-33 — possibly armed subject” and when Hunady arrived, he immediately equipped his service rifle and took a defensive position.
In the more than 10 minutes that follow before Victor emerges from his vehicle, there is little talk about any strategy to investigate Victor’s status. Audio indicates deputies tried and failed to get a clear view inside the vehicle, while Hunady kept his rifle trained upward and repeatedly told Victor to step out.
In fact, Hunady shouted no fewer than 84 commands to Victor during the standoff, telling the subject 25 times to “come out,” 33 times to “drop it” or “put it down,” and 11 times to “show your hands.”
THIS VIDEO HAS BEEN EDITED TO OBSCURE SOME IMAGERY
The alleged constitutional violations, expected to be filed by the plaintiff’s attorneys early next month, may occur in communication lapses or omissions, or whether BCSO considered using non-lethal options to take Victor down. In his deposition, Hunady acknowledged he was equipped with a Taser, along with his rifle, a handgun and shotgun. The dash cam audio also reveals there was a K9 unit on the scene.
In the lawsuit, Mack is accused of “failure to properly train or supervise deputies to respond in a proportionate and appropriate manner to injured individuals and/or individuals displaying signs of an altered state of mind.” He acknowledged in a deposition the department had no crisis intervention training at the time of the shooting.
For his part, no audio or video released to the court captures Hunady making a statement about the shooting. In the moments afterward, deputies secured Victor’s body and cleared his vehicle, and paramedics immediately began working to save his life.
Hunady himself placed a tourniquet on Victor’s leg, and before Victor was flown to the hospital, Hunady held pressure on Victor’s abdominal wound. In several other moments after the shooting, Hunady instructs others how to use a respirator and assists with unpacking first aid.
In a particularly uncomfortable piece of evidence, defense attorneys submitted a photograph allegedly showing Victor had cut his wrist prior to the shooting, suggesting his actions afterward may have been an attempt at “suicide by cop.”
“Victor drove Hunady’s choice to shoot him to end the threat,” the motion for dismissal argues. “Victor wanted to die. He controlled the scene so that Hunady would complete what he had tried to do himself. Victor was unarmed, but in the tense seconds the shooting unfolded, there was no way to tell.”
The federal court is expected to rule on motions as early as March and if the case is allowed to proceed, a trial is scheduled for April.
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