MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - FOX10 News obtained body camera video from an incident involving high school students pepper-sprayed by a Mobile Police officer nearly two years ago.
The video release is a breakthrough in a long fight for transparency. In all, it's about 50 minutes long and MPD turned over videos from four different officers who responded to the chaotic scene.
It all started on September 2, 2016, when a group of McGill-Toolen High School students were painting the cannon at the Loop on Government Street after their football victory against Murphy High School. The painting of the cannon is a decades-old tradition connected to the rivalry game.
During that celebration, a Mobile Police officer pepper-sprayed the students.
While shaking a tube of mace, the body camera video shows a Mobile Police Officer say,""Start moving! Everybody's fixing to start getting pepper sprayed! Start moving!"
Then another view of the incident shows the officer pepper spray the crowd sending the students scattering.
James Barber, who was chief of police at the time, apologized for his officer's actions but refused to release the body camera video. Multiple students hit with the pepper spray were in disbelief, even asking the officers why they did it.
One officer said, ""The reason why the pepper spray was utilized is because a hundred-plus people standing out here is a safety hazard to the general public."
Talking to other officers, another officer said, "Nobody intentionally got sprayed. It's just a mist. I just misted it. I imagine there's a few of them because I just kind of misted it in the air. Like I said it was a much of people so it is what it is."
In 2017, Meredith Corporation, the owner of WALA FOX10 News, on behalf of its local journalists, filed suit against the city seeking release of the video, because FOX10 News believed the public has a right to see body camera videos that are paid for with tax dollars.
Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Rick Stout issued a ruling Monday, August 13, ordering the city of Mobile to release the video to FOX10 News within 14 days.
The ruling came with stipulations, however, indicating the city must blur the faces of any juveniles depicted in the video, and FOX10 News must pay for city officials to do so.
Judge Stout indicated in the ruling that because the pepper spray video does not apply to an ongoing criminal investigation, and it is not a part of any juvenile criminal proceeding, the video is a public record.
The judge also said the order should not set a precedent for all body camera videos to be released. Instead, Judge Stout said each body camera video request should be assessed individually, with the public records statute in mind.