In recent years, many law enforcement agencies have begun requiring officers to wear body cameras on duty, a policy aimed at bringing transparency to the important work of protecting the public.
The Advocate filed a lawsuit Friday against Louisiana State Police over the agency's refusal to release a trooper’s body camera footage from a…
But how transparent is a body camera when the public can’t view the footage in a controversial incident involving two officers from separate agencies?
Such stonewalling flies in the face of common sense, and it’s especially grievous coming from the Louisiana State Police, an institution that’s supposed to set the gold standard of public accountability. Skeptics can be forgiven for assuming that in a case where a law enforcement officer might be further embarrassed, the folks in blue are simply trying to shield one of their own.
At issue is a speeding ticket issued by State Trooper Jared Taylor to New Orleans Police Department Sgt. Chantelle Davis last November. According to State Police documents, Davis, who was off-duty, was going 83 mph in a 60 mph zone when Taylor pulled her over on the West Bank Expressway in Jefferson Parish. According to LSP’s account, Davis was “dismissive, arrogant and disrespectful during the stop, tapping away on her cellphone as she exited her vehicle.
“She immediately had an attitude, tried to control the stop, volunteered that she was NOPD, challenged (Taylor) on where he told her to stand, shooed him disrespectfully and ordered him to write the ticket so she could go,” an LSP officer wrote in an email about the incident.
Although she was off-duty at the time, Davis was still obligated to observe the NOPD’s rules governing moral conduct. LSP records show that the ticket was voided after the incident was “handled with Commander Nick Gernon” of the NOPD, who supervises Davis.
Now, NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau is investigating how Davis handled the traffic stop — and also whether Gernon properly handled LSP’s complaint about Davis. Last December, before the traffic stop gained public attention, Davis was promoted to sergeant, gaining praise from department leaders at the time.
This is a matter of obvious public interest, especially since Davis, after being accused of inappropriate behavior when caught speeding, got out of a pricey ticket that most of us would have had to pay.
That’s why The Advocate has sued the State Police in an effort to secure the release of the body camera video from the traffic stop involving Davis. We believe this is a record that should be available to the public, and we hope that the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, where we filed our suit last week, agrees.
In the court of opinion, we suspect, the verdict is already in. State Police officials claim releasing the video would violate Davis’ privacy, but she should have no reasonable expectations of privacy regarding an incident on a public roadway.
If Davis acted appropriately, she should have nothing to hide. Body cameras, which are supposed to be the public’s eye on police conduct, can’t advance accountability when citizens are left in the dark.