NYPD Body Cameras: Officer Safety v. Valuable Independent Evidence
The decision by NYPD to recall 2,990 of its Vievu LE-5s, a body camera that features a lithium-ion battery with over twelve hours of recording time is being challenged by recent cases where NYPD bodycam’s footage questioned NYPD officers’ version of events. The NYPD’s justification for this decision stems from an alleged incident regarding a Staten Island officer who noticed smoke emanating from his device. Although the officer was not injured, the explosion uncovered “a potential for the battery inside the camera to ignite.” Consequently, the NYPD’s prior plan to ensure that all 23,000 patrol officers wore body cameras has been delayed. NYPD stated that other camera models were not affected. Currently, there are no updates about prospective mandates for patrol officers to wear body cameras.
Although body cameras may possibly pose health risks to police officers, they provide insight on the lengths that law enforcement would reach to make an arrest. Due to conflicting testimony between officers’ and accused individuals, and the unpredictability of Level 1 encounters, Mayor Bill de Blasio instructed to start a pilot program to mandate all patrol officers to wear body cameras.
Per the New York Times, on February 28, 2018, Officer Kyle Erickson and Officer Elmer Pastran pulled over a BMW sedan, with tinted windows, for turning without signaling. The vehicle’s occupants were four, young African-American men. After approaching the vehicle, the officers suspected and confirmed that the youths were smoking marijuana. Although the men admitted to previously smoking and reiterated that there was no marijuana in the car, Officer Pastran’s suspicions pushed him to search the vehicle with Officer Erickson. During the search, Officer Erickson’s camera turned off. Both officers announced they found no signs of narcotics in the back-seat area of the BMW. Several minutes later, Lasou Kuyateh, the driver of the vehicle, exclaimed that he observed Officer Erickson place “something” in his car. Subsequently, Officer Erickson claimed to have located a burning, marijuana cigarette behind the driver’s seat. Although the area was deemed “pretty clear” after a prior search by Officer Pastran and Officer Erickson’s camera inexplicably turned back on before the discovery was made, Mr. Kuyateh was indicted for obstruction of police investigation. In a pre-trial hearing at Staten Island’s Criminal Court, Officer Erickson testified that his body camera may have possibly deactivated while he was searching the car. The timing of reactivation of the camera corresponded to the instant when he was reaching for the ignited cigarette. Mr. Kuyateh rejected a plea offer that guaranteed no jail time and appeared in court ten times to fight the allegations. After Judge Christopher Robles asked to meet with the lawyers for an off-the-record conversation, the prosecutors dismissed the charges, citing the timing gap in his body-camera as the reason. Although the video does not verify a staging of the marijuana cigarette, the ordeal sheds light on the problematic decision to rely on body cameras prone to technical difficulties when proving an individual’s guilt.
NYPD’s implementation of bodycams is sure to be an ongoing issue for some time.
If you have been the victim of police brutality or misconduct or a false arrest by NYPD, contact the attorneys at PetersonDelleCave LLP for a free consultation.