The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension denied violating the public’s right to access of video footage from the officer-involved shooting death of Jamar Clark, according to a response to a lawsuit demanding that authorities release the evidence.
Last month, the ACLU and the NAACP sued Minnesota’s top law enforcement agencies, claiming that the public benefit to releasing the videos outweighs any potential harm to the ongoing criminal investigation. The 10-page response to the lawsuit filed Monday repeatedly cited data practices law as the reason for rejecting the organizations’ request.
The videos obtained by the BCA came from an ambulance, a public housing building, the cellphones of bystanders and a police mobile video station. There is no video from any police car or officer body cameras.
Early in the BCA investigation, Gov. Mark Dayton viewed the ambulance video and called it inconclusive. The suit said that Dayton’s right to view the videos “is no greater than the public’s right to view the videos.”
In Monday’s response, the BCA said it allowed Dayton to view the video, but didn’t release it to his office. The viewing wasn’t improper, they said.
The suit, filed in Ramsey County, named the BCA, its superintendent and the state Department of Public Safety as defendants. DPS spokesman Bruce Gordon declined to comment but previously said the video will be released once the case is closed. Catherine Ahlin-Halverson, one of several attorneys representing the ACLU and NAACP, also declined to comment.
Clark, 24, a black man, was fatally shot in the head as he and two white officers, Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, struggled on the street in the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue N. on Nov. 15. Police were called to the location on a report that Clark assaulted his girlfriend and blocked paramedics from trying to treat her. Clark died the next day.
Activists claim Clark was unarmed and handcuffed when he was shot, an assertion denied by the police union. They say Clark had his hand on one of the officers’ guns before he was shot.
The BCA’s response acknowledged that the media has reported conflicting accounts of Clark’s encounter with police, but said many of the ACLU and NAACP’s allegations in their suit about what happened were vague and speculative.
The BCA recently finished its investigation into Clark’s death and sent it to the Hennepin County attorney’s office for review. Last week, County Attorney Mike Freeman returned the case to the BCA for further investigation. He said he hopes to have a decision on charges by the end of March.
Both groups who filed the suit were denied the videos by the BCA in January. The BCA previously said that none of the videos show the entire incident involving Clark’s death, and that their release at this point could contaminate witness statements.
The Star Tribune has made similar formal requests for the incident report data and video from the night of the shooting. Those requests are still pending with the city of Minneapolis and the BCA.
Monday’s response denied that they didn’t explain why the requests of the ACLU and NAACP were rejected. The BCA agreed with the lawsuit’s claim that “transparency is one of the many factors in the relationship between law enforcement and the community.”
The next court hearing on the lawsuit is April 7.