In 2015 most people have easy access to videos and cameras on their cellphones. The change has meant police and deputies face unprecedented scrutiny from the public over their methods.
A case in point is a report this month that authorities in Texas are examining two videos recorded by members of the public that show sheriff’s deputies in Bexar County, Texas shooting and killing a man. A decade ago it was unusual to have video evidence of an incident like this. Now it’s not uncommon to have more than one video.
CNN reported on how a four-minute video has been released by a San Antonio television station that acquired it from the man who recorded it. The footage is shot from a distance and it “appears that Gilbert Flores has at least one hand in the air (the other cannot be seen) when he is shot.”
There is another video of the incident that has not been released by police. Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas LaHood told CNN that video is “a better view to make an assessment on what happened. It is a closer view and a better angle.”
The latest shooting comes at a time when police and other law enforcement officers face almost unprecedented scrutiny over their methods and use of force.
Recently we noted a protest that was organized by the family of Joseph Hutcheson, who died after being restrained by sheriff’s deputies in the Dallas County jail lobby. His family held a news conference demanding answers from officials.
The family is calling for Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to fire and pursue charges against the deputies involved, and release any videos showing the Aug. 1 incident.
Michael Thomas, the man who recorded the video in Bexar County, said the increased public scrutiny of officer-involved shootings across the nation is the reason he recorded the first video on his cell phone from the driver’s seat of his car.
In the video that was aired on the TV station KSAT, Flores is seen to be shirtless, running in front of a home in San Antonio. The two sheriff’s deputies who approached him were investigating a domestic violence call. KSAT confirmed it paid Thomas $100 for the video.
“As the guy and police were going back and forth, the man acted like he was going to run back inside his house and then ran around the cars by the cop car and the cops started pursuing closer to him,” Thomas told CNN.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office claimed Flores had a knife and was resisting arrest when deputies approached him.
Thomas told CNN Flores put his hands in the air and then he had his hands up for a few seconds before the deputies shot him twice.
Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said the video would form part of the evidence being collected to determine what happened.
The video was shot from across the street, meaning it’s difficult to see Flores and impossible to hear the conversation between the officers and the suspect.
LaHood said the public should not make judgments based on the first video.
The second one, recorded by a neighbor, is “troubling, he said,” but added, “before we make decisions on what the next step is, we are going to take our time to receive all the evidence.”
The TV station said it was making no judgment about the officers’ actions, but it was obligated to share “information in the public interest.”
Video has formed a key piece of evidence in these kinds of cases for years. In 1991 camcorder footage taken by a local resident of four police officers beating a black motorist called Rodney King during a traffic stop led to the infamous case that sparked the L.A. riots and was considered to be the first viral video of the pre-Internet age.
Now the use of video is becoming more common due to the ubiquity of cellphone cameras. The footage—not only from cellphones, but also public surveillance cameras, dashboard cameras in police cars, and police-worn body cameras—has caused a massive shift in public awareness to police methods and forms an increasingly important part of criminal investigations.