Opinion writer

Techdirt has the goods on a pretty crazy story out of Albuquerque. Five police officers were at the scene of a fatal shooting. All five were wearing body cameras. And miraculously, none of the five captured usable footage from the shooting on their body cameras.

A sergeant on the scene claimed to have turned his camera on, but the camera didn’t record. He’d later say his camera had never malfunctioned like that before. Ditto for another officer whose camera weirdly captured footage so pixelated that it was unusable — again, no one had ever seen that problem before. A third officer says his camera malfunctioned just before the shooting. Mysteriously, the camera has not had a problem since. A fourth said his camera mistakenly became unplugged. Analysis showed it had been turned on eight minutes before the shooting, then turned off just moments before the fatal encounter. A fifth officer’s camera captured 10 seconds of vague footage. It should have captured at least 30, given the camera’s buffer function. He had failed to turn it on.

Regular readers of The Watch may recall that this isn’t even the first time five police cameras all conveniently malfunctioned at a critical time. (Regular readers may also recall that the Albuquerque Police Department has a long and colorful history of excessive force, shootings, cover-ups and other misconduct.) In 2014, I posted about a story from Utah in which a man with a severe back condition was injured by three Utah officers during a traffic stop. The man had called his wife, who had claimed to hear the entire altercation over the phone. There should have been footage from five different cameras, the lapel camera worn by each of the three officers, plus the dash cameras in the two squad cars at the scene. Somehow, all five cameras failed to produce any footage.

But both these stories are topped by this 2007 case from Maryland:

In 2007 Andrea McCarren, an investigative reporter for the D.C. TV station WJLA, was pulled over by seven Prince George’s County police cars as she and a cameraman followed a county official in pursuit of a story about misuse of public funds. In a subsequent lawsuit, McCarren claimed police roughed her up during the stop, causing a dislocated shoulder and torn rotator cuff. McCarren won a settlement, but she was never able to obtain video of the incident. Prince George’s County officials say all seven dashboard cameras in the police cruisers coincidentally malfunctioned.

I’m currently working on a long investigation into police misconduct in Little Rock. It’ll be published here in the weeks to come. In the meantime, here’s a little preview: A couple of years ago, civil rights attorney Mike Laux deposed Little Rock Police Department Capt. Heath Helton about a similar recurring pattern in the LRPD — the pattern in which cops fail to activate their cameras during use-of-force incidents, and are ultimately found to have violated policy there, but are cleared of excessive force, precisely because there’s no footage to corroborate the alleged abuse. Helton at the time was the head of training at the LRPD. Laux asked Helton if such a pattern might create an incentive for police officers to fail to activate their devices just before engaging in excessive force. Helton didn’t seem to think it was a problem.