A reader writes:
Your recent post about equipping police forces with video cameras struck a chord with me, as I recently sat on a jury where the lack of video played a central role. The case was not particularly exceptional, and the lesson obviously anecdotal, but it was a major eye-opener for me.
A young Hispanic male from a nearby town known for its drug trade was targeted and arrested by a drug task force, although no drug charges were presented. He was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon (ramming the undercover cruiser behind him with his car), operating a motor vehicle to endanger (driving on the sidewalk to evade the ad hoc police blockade), leaving the scene of an accident, negligent operation (running stop signs) and failure to stop for police.
The very first question the defense lawyer asked was, “Where’s the video?” Of course there was none, and in the absence of actual evidence, video or otherwise, the six middle/upper-middle class white people that composed our jury took it on faith that four police officers would casually perjure themselves and voted not guilty on the assault and endangerment charges. At one point, one of the jury members asked “Why are there no witnesses?” I’m no friend of the police, but I felt I had to remind the group that technically the State presented four witnesses – the four police officers.
In the end, we voted to convict on the negligent operation and failure to stop charges, based on the defendant’s own account of the episode during his testimony. I couldn’t help but think that the police have a real, existential problem when the juror I expected to be most sympathetic to the police – the contractor who told the court he knew a few cops from the neighborhood – turned out to be the one most adamant that the officers’ testimony should be completely disregarded.
The day may be fast approaching when any officer who wants to be believed in court will welcome video evidence to back them up, and that will surely be a win for anyone interested in justice.