Should Detroit Police Have Had Cameras Rolling When Girl was Shot?

Seven-year-old Aiyanna Jones killed during police raid.

January 21, 2010, 7:45 AM

Detroit, Michigan, May. 18, 2010— -- The death of a 7-year-old girl who was shot during a police raid in Detroit while cameras were rolling could raise questions about whether police behavior changes when they know someone's watching.

A spokesman for the A&E program "The First 48" tells ABC News they had a camera crew along with the Detroit police when Aiyanna Jones was shot and killed during the execution of a search warrant to find a man wanted in connection with a murder. The camera crew was not inside the house when the girl was hit. The raid happened early Sunday morning.

Although there's no direct evidence to suggest the camera crew's presence changed officers' behavior, Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University who follows television and popular culture, says cameras following cops is a touchy situation.

"I'm all for press freedom," said Thompson in an interview, "But I have always thought anything you do to distract people who enter a dangerous situation armed with weaponry is not a good idea."

"When I watch 'Cops' -- and I like the program -- I have always thought that's got to be, on one level, distracting."

Thompson says there's no question people change their behavior when cameras are around.

"Heisenberg's uncertainty principal tells us that even molecules under observation behave differently," he said. "When a camera is present some may be extra careful. On the other hand, there may be people who consciously or unconsciously are going to want to perform more heroically or with more machismo."

The issue of photographers influencing soliders' actions goes back as far as World War I, Thompson says, but free speech has usually prevailed over objections to documentarians traveling with soliders.

For the family of the 7-year-old girl, the A&E cameras could be very important. Attorney Geoffrey Feiger, who has filed two lawsuits on the family's behalf, says video evidence will show police are covering up what happened during the raid

Fieger said Tuesday that the suggestion the shot fired that killed Aiyanna was an accident is "absurd," because a videotape shows the shot came from a porch outside the home.

"This type of activity by a police force is unacceptable in America," said Fieger. "What's equally unacceptable is the cover-up that has occurred."

Police say an officer's gun accidentally discharged during an altercation with Aiyanna's grandmother, Mertilla Jones.

Fieger says the video shows the girl was burned by a grenade police threw into the house. Fieger told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that someone taping the police raid brought the video to his office.

The Detroit police did not respond to ABC News' inquiry about the possibility that officers changed their behavior because the cameras were following them.

Detroit's Police Chief Warren Evans, who has been trying to reform the overworked department for almost a year, issued a statement this afternoon:

"I want to say to the entire Jones family, Aiyana's loved ones and friends, how terribly sorry I am for your loss. I have children and grandchildren and cannot comprehend losing one of them, especially under such painful circumstances," he said. "I will never be able to put myself in your shoes."

Evans said the Detroit police has a "painful self-examination" to undergo.

"Whatever our findings, they won't be pretty. There is no way they can be under these circumstances. They won't be pretty, but they will be honest."

State police. meanwhile, have taken over handling the investigation from the Detroit police.

"Due to the fact that the family of Aiyanna Jones has apparently retained legal counsel, along with the fact that the investigation…..has been handed over the Michigan State Police, the City of Detroit Law Department has advised the Detroit Police Department to refrain from giving any further comment on this investigation at this time," Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee said in a statement.

Fieger says there were 15 officers present during the raid and he called on the officers who witnessed the incident to come forward with the truth about what happened.

"You all know what happened at this scene. Please don't let this child have died in vain," he said.

Fieger filed federal and state lawsuits on behalf of the family Tuesday alleging violation of civil rights, gross negligence and conspiracy to hide what actually happened.

A tearful Mertilla Jones also spoke at the news conference. She disputed the police account that she fought with an officer. "As soon as they hit the window, I hit the floor and I went for my granddaughter," she said.

A spokesman for "The First 48" tells ABC News they had a camera crew along with the Detroit police. They were not filming inside the home. The spokesman said A&E is cooperating with the investigation.

Fieger would not say who brought the tape to him but said he's not sure whether or not A&E has video. Fieger seemed to suggest the Detroit Police Department was also videotaping the incident.

Citizens and government officials across Detroit have expressed outrage at the little girl's death.

"We just can't continue to accept this kind of massacre of our citizens in the city of Detroit. Can't do it," Detroit Mayor Dave Bing told ABC station WXYZ. "The bottom line is we've got a young 7-year-old kid that's been killed. We all ought to be outraged by that."

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality said, "The details of this tragedy represent something that we've never seen before. The use of an incendiary device, and the shooting of the 7-year-old in the middle of the night can only be described as the 'pain of pains.'" The coalition said it wants to know what police protocols and procedures were used in the raid.

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