In his first opportunity to implement a new video release policy aimed at improving transparency, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul decided against sharing with the public the body or dash camera videos from an Aug. 7 officer-involved shooting.

Almost three weeks after the shooting and the subsequent arrest of a man allegedly involved — police say the man shot at an officer while fleeing a traffic stop, prompting the officer to return fire — Paul chose not to release the footage from the incident. No one was injured in the shooting.

The Public Release of Critical Incident Recordings policy, which went into effect last week, allows the police chief 12 days to review any video captured from such an officer-involved shootings and determine if the video can be shared publicly. On the 14th business day since the Aug. 7 officer-involved shooting, an attorney for the police department responded to The Advocate's public records request, saying Paul decided the "requested video(s) will not released at this time based on the active admin and criminal investigation."

Paul declined to comment further. 

Three days after the shooting, 21-year-old Raheem Howard was arrested on attempted murder of a police officer and illegal use of a weapon. He is being held on $90,000 bond in Parish Prison.

Police allege Howard fired a single shot at officer Yuseff Hamadeh on North 15th Street on the evening of Aug. 7, after fleeing when Hamadeh stopped his vehicle for not having a license plate. Hamadeh returned fire; no one was injured. 

Upon his arrest, Howard called for the release of the body and dash camera videos, claiming they would prove his innocence. He did not deny being at the scene or even fleeing, but said he did not have a gun. 

Howard's attorney, Ronald Haley Jr., said he is extremely disappointed by Paul's decision not to release the footage. 

“I was happy that the chief announced the policy and I was looking forward to getting the evidence to hopefully exonerate my client," Haley said. "There needs to be transparency in this case."

The body camera release policy says it was created to increase the trust between the police department and the community. 

"It is the policy of the police department to facilitate the prompt release of audio and video recordings of critical incidents involving the the police department, so long as the release is consistent with the legitimate needs of ongoing law enforcement operations," the policy says. But, complete discretion is given to the chief, which means he can release the video even during an ongoing investigation, or not.

Retired Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, now the vice president of strategic partnerships for the Center for Policing Equity, encourages the release of video footage and practiced that during his tenure as a police chief. In a previous interview about body camera policy, he said he believes the benefits far outweigh the minor challenges it can pose for investigators, and he called a decision not to release relevant video based on an ongoing investigation a "poor excuse." 

"We routinely in other situations, show (evidence)," Burbank said, citing photos and videos of bank robberies or suspects shared, or even cell phone video taken during crimes. "You can still prosecute the matter, you can still hold people accountable. Does it create challenges? In some cases. … What it does, it provides transparency to the public and it shows we have nothing to hide."

Which is Haley's concern in the Aug. 7 shooting, where he feels his client is being framed for the shooting, going so far as to speculate that Howard's arrest is part of a "cover-up" from the police department. 

"Every day that it goes on that we don’t get the video, it’s bringing more doubt as into the veracity of the story," Haley said. "If the video shows my client firing at a police officer, if the video shows my client with a gun, then it is what it is, it would be self-proving. … The more I believe the area is gray and does not live in black and white, that’s problematic."

Haley said his client did not have a firearm at the time of the shooting, and had nothing on him that could have even been mistaken for a gun. 

"He left his cell phone, his ID and his wallet inside the car," the attorney said. "He did not have anything on his physical person that could be mistaken for a firearm.”

At Howard's arrest on Aug. 10, police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. said no gun had been recovered. He declined to comment on any further developments Monday, citing an ongoing investigation. 

Haley said he is also concerned that the officer involved has a history of such incidents. Hamadeh was the officer who fatally shot Jordan Frazier in 2017, a shooting in which police say Frazier pointed a gun at officers following a traffic stop. 

"A year later, it’s another shooting," Haley said. "We have another traffic stop that has ended up in gunfire, that’s not normal. … The only difference between this one and that one is that the officer missed this time."

The father of Jordan Frazier, who was shot and killed on South Acadian Thruway, said this decision confirms his concerns about how police have handled the investigation of his son's shooting. There was no video of that shooting. 

Henry Frazier, who continues to make comments only after qualifying that he supports law enforcement officers, said he is disappointed that Paul is not allowing the public to see the video in the Aug. 7 shooting. 

"It’s almost the citizens are guilty until proven innocent," Henry Frazier said. "It seems like the officers are assumed innocent no matter what the cameras show. … How are we as citizens supposed to feel?”

Editors note: This post was updated Aug. 28, 2018 to correctly portray allegations against Jordan Frazier, who was killed in a June 2017 officer-involved shooting. Police allege that Frazier pointed a weapon at officers, not that he fired the weapon. The Advocate regrets the error.

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.