Body cam debate heats up on the Gulf Coast - FOX10 News | WALA

Body cam debate heats up on the Gulf Coast

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Body camera Fairhope Police officers wear. (WALA) Body camera Fairhope Police officers wear. (WALA)
(WALA) -

FOX10 News Investigates is committed to tracking the transparency of your local governments, which is why we're continuing to follow every latest development over your right to see police body camera videos. 

While Mobile Police continues to block the public from seeing body cam video paid for with tax dollars, FOX10 News has learned another law enforcement agency a few miles away is releasing its videos.

The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office says it has no problem allowing public access to body camera videos, even those showing a deadly officer-involved shooting.

FOX10 News caught up with Baldwin County Sheriff Huey "Hoss" Mack about why he recently released one chilling video, and how his agency will continue to be transparent in future high profile cases to come. 

“It’s an accountability issue, that I think law enforcement needs to look at and deal with,” said Mack.

A few weeks ago, Mack released compelling video captured by one of his deputy’s body cams. 

Corporal Matt Hunady shot and killed Jonathon Victor, as he continued to approach deputies, and ignore their repeated requests to stand down. 

Shortly after Hunady was cleared by a Baldwin County Grand Jury, Mack released the video of the incident. 

"We felt it was pertinent for the public to know exactly what happened,” explained Sheriff Mack. “We wanted also to clear up any rumors."

While this is the first time the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office has released body camera video of a deadly officer-involved shooting, this isn't the first dramatic video the sheriff's office has shared with the public.

Mack has also released compelling dash cam videos of high speed chases. 

Sheriff Mack said he has now made it a policy to release body camera videos of incidents in question once an investigation is complete, and the case is settled. 

Mack also said he would be willing to release video even if his deputies were in the wrong. 

“I don't think the decision is whether the deputy was in the wrong or in the right, I think you have to have a consistent policy regardless,” said Mack. “You're always going to deal with officers, investigators, who have crossed the line, and that's going to happen, you try to minimize that as much as possible, but when it does happen... I don't think the final decision should be right or wrong, it should be a consistent policy, and whatever the result is, then that's what you deal with."

Moreover, Mack isn't the only Baldwin County official who's open to releasing body cam video. 

Baldwin County District Attorney Bob Wilters said he will release police body camera video of a deadly officer-involved shooting in Fairhope. 

Just last week, Fairhope Police officers shot and killed Sanders Surber after officials said he went on a crime spree through Fairhope and wielded a shotgun in front of officers. 

Wilters said the body cam video, recorded by Fairhope officers, would be released once a grand jury reached a decision in the case. 

"As soon as the grand jury has met and considered the totality of the investigation, and has reached a determination, at that point after the grand jury has reported its decision, the videos will be released at that time,” said Wilters. 

Across the bay in the city of Mobile, there's a much different view on the release of body camera video paid by tax dollars. 

After police pepper-sprayed a group of McGill seniors as they were painting the cannon after their big football victory against Murphy High School, police refused to release the body camera video of the incident. 

Some parents criticized officers for spraying the students without warning. 

The police chief at the time of the incident, who is now the city’s public safety director, James Barber, apologized for what happened. 

"For those students that were affected by the effects of the chemical and certainly I do apologize for that, said Barber on September 6, 2016.

Body cam video of the incident would show the public exactly what happened, and could potentially clear up any confusion, but, Barber has refused to release that video. 

In fact, many people in Mobile want to have a clearer understanding about police activity. 

According to a recent exclusive FOX10 News STRATEGY Research Poll, 72 percent of voters we polled in Mobile believe police body camera video should be made available to the public. 

The city was also not forthcoming about its body camera policy. 

It took FOX10 News filing suit against the city for us to receive a copy of the policy. 

That suit remains open, as FOX10 News is committed to your rights to see how your tax dollars are being used for police body cameras. 

Friday, a hearing will be held on the matter, and FOX10 News will bring you the latest updates from the courtroom. 

FOX10 News also reached out to Barber both by email and phone for this report, but never received a response. 

All this comes after Barber’s boss, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, promised transparency to the people of Mobile after being elected. 

"We will have a degree of transparency that the city has never seen before,” said Stimpson in 2013. 
 

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