Leaving Their Cameras Off
Despite adopting body cameras in 2012, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has rarely used them during lethal force incidents, and implementation isn’t done.
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According to Brodie, the delay is largely due to efforts to switch from its previous camera provider, VIEVU, to a new provider, Axon. The sheriff’s office only started deploying Axon cameras in June and as of early September had assigned 466 cameras, but only 200 are in active use.
Brodie also noted that the program’s implementation has been further delayed by the fact that data collected by the new cameras can’t be stored on site. The Axon cameras record in high definition, and the sheriff’s office has been accumulating about 2 gigabytes of video per camera per day. The 200 new cameras in active service have accumulated 1.86 terabytes of data already. The sheriff’s office previously stored the accumulation of data in an on-site server, but with the new Axon cameras, it has had to switch to a cloud storage—Evidence.com. Brodie said they are also still working out the details of how to securely upload the massive amount of data being collected.
While the footage collected is subject to the California Public Records Act, the law provides extremely broad exemptions for disclosure when video is part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation.
Brodie said he expects all 1,200 deputies to be assigned cameras by November. In the meantime, some deputies are continuing to use the VIEVU cameras, and there are about 700 total cameras in use. Sheriff’s officials said they could not provide records of which deputies were assigned cameras or when, so who had them during deadly force incidents is largely unclear.
But an Alameda County District Attorney’s office report reveals that during the deadly shooting of an unarmed man in 2014, three sheriff’s deputies present had cameras and none turned them on. The deputies were assisting an Oakland police operation, and while the sheriff’s deputies didn’t turn on their cameras, all the Oakland officers interviewed by the DA’s Office did.
A DA’s report from Oct. 20, 2015, cleared Deputy Derek Thoms in the Aug. 3, 2014, shooting of Jacorey Calhoun in East Oakland. Thoms, a dog handler, had responded after a pursuit of a robbery suspect by Oakland police to assist with a backyard search.
After Thoms lost control of the dog, and it hopped over a fence, he scrambled after it, saw Calhoun coming toward him with the dog biting him, and shot him dead, according to the report.
As the shooting happened, Oakland police Officer Miguel Masso—who had killed Alan Blueford in a controversial shooting two years earlier—was on his way over the fence and was the only witness to the shooting. Masso had activated his body camera, but police said it malfunctioned, and technicians were unable to download its data. Thoms never turned his on, and neither did two other deputies present, Shaun Corey and Huy Nguyen.
A review of DA’s Office reports on fatal shootings revealed only one shooting involving a sheriff’s deputy that was recorded on a body worn camera: on March 30, 2013, a few months after the sheriff’s office program started.
In that incident, Broderick Alan Huggins was shot by Deputy Eric Larson following a traffic stop in Oakland. Huggins had refused to get out of his SUV and was struggling. Larson jumped into the car and was trying to get him out when Huggins sped forward, eventually crashing.
Larson had a camera, but didn’t activate it during the stop, and it wasn’t on when he shot Huggins. However, Deputy Robert Young activated his camera and captured the shooting from outside the SUV. Santamaria, now facing charges for the Petrov beating, was also outside and fired on the SUV, missing Huggins and shooting Larson in the foot. It’s unclear if Santamaria had a body camera then.