Milwaukee Body Cam Video Won't Be Released to Public Just Yet

“I want the video released," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

ByABC News
August 16, 2016, 8:08 PM

— -- Body camera footage from the Milwaukee shooting incident that sparked violent protests over the weekend likely won’t be released until after the investigation is complete, despite calls to release it to the public sooner.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who saw a still photo from the video, said he thinks it should be released.

“I want the video released. I believe the video will provide a lot of context as to what's going on,” he said at a press conference.

Wisconsin State Rep. David Bowen said it would be a “measure of good faith” to release the video because it would clearly show what happened and that’s what’s allowing a lot of things to fester.”

However, the video is under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is conducting the investigation and says it’s not “prepared to release any of the video evidence at this time.”

Sylville K. Smith, 23, was shot and killed on Saturday by a Milwaukee police officer, who was wearing a body camera, according to police. Police say that the video will prove Smith was holding a gun.

Barrett told reporters that a still from the video “demonstrates without question” that Smith had a gun in his hand.

Multiple nights of rioting and protests, including arson, property damage, clashes with police and gunfire, followed the incident. Dozens were arrested, the Wisconsin National Guard was activated and the city implemented a curfew.

The Office of the Attorney General, Wisconsin DOJ, issued a statement Monday, saying that in many similar instances the department releases video evidence after it completes the officer-involved death investigation.

This allows the prosecutor to make a decision on whether or not to criminally charge the law enforcement officer, according to the state DOJ.

“In recognition of the violence that has affected Milwaukee residents for the last 48 hours, DOJ is working expeditiously, and within the parameters of the law, to provide the community a transparent view of the events that took place on August 13 in a timely manner,” said the statement.

Rules vary from department to department and state to state on how and when to release officer-worn camera footage.

For example, the Chicago Police Department released videos earlier this month related to the fatal police-involved shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal, who was killed by officers in late July.

In June, the Burnsville Police Department in Minnesota released body camera footage of police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man that occurred months earlier in March.

There are around 18,000 police departments -- big and small -- across the country. In some cases, state sunshine laws dictate the rules of releasing police video to the public.

One investigative rationale for not releasing videos is that departments don’t want the possibility of tainting witnesses' memories, according to Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation.

Traditionally, authorities want to make sure the have exhausted all efforts to interview witnesses before releasing video widely.

This is controversial because in many cases police can view the videos, possibly altering their own memory of an incident, said Bueermann.

A key issue for many police departments, especially in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2015, is to get information out as quickly as possible.

“In an information vacuum, people tend to fill that vacuum with their own narrative,” said Bueermann.

Eva Pilgrim and Brian Hartman contributed to this story.

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