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Roanoke Delegate Puts Forward Bill To Require Release Of Body Camera Footage

Delegate sam rasoul speaking at a podium with other lawmakers behind him
FILE PHOTO: Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) speaking at a press conference earlier this year. (Patrick Larsen/VPM)

When police in Virginia shoot or use a taser on a suspect, there’s no requirement that the body camera footage of the incident be released. A bill from Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) seeks to change that. 

Rasoul said he was inspired to put the proposal forward following the police killing of high school student Kionte Spencer. Spencer was reportedly walking along the road with a BB-gun in hand and not responding to orders when he was shot and killed by Roanoke County Police. That was in 2016, and Spencer’s family still hasn’t received the body camera footage from that night.

Rasoul’s bill would require that law enforcement agencies put out unedited body camera footage within 15 days of a shooting.

“There needs to be a process by which we can expect these video and audio recordings to become public, because people have a right to know,” Rasoul said in an interview with VPM.

The bill would also require body camera footage be released after police use a taser or chemical agents like pepper spray and tear gas. Under the proposal, the footage would need to be accessible to the public and posted to a website maintained by the police agency.

There are exemptions built into the bill that allows police to withhold any video or audio that would threaten someone’s safety or hinder an investigation. 

Dana Schrad, who heads the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said her organization is opposing the bill because they believe releasing partial evidence before trial “is not going to get us to a position of justice.”

“Public opinion prejudges outcomes If body camera video is released separate from other evidence in a criminal incident or potential criminal incident,” Schrad said. “Statements from involved parties, witnesses and subject matter experts who interpret video are all part of determining the outcome of a criminal investigation.”

Still, Rasoul said he believes the public has a right to view officers’ actions and hold them accountable.

“They’re reviewing it anyway, as it’s part of an investigation,” he said. “So, we are simply calling for the public to be able to have the right to know what happened as well.”

Rasoul’s bill has been referred to the House Committee for Courts of Justice. It has yet to be docketed for a public hearing.