On Saturday, Oct. 12, a police officer fatally shot Atatiana Koquice Jefferson in her home in Fort Worth, Texas. Within hours of the shooting, the mayor and police chief released the body camera footage.
The video showed the perspective of the officer outside the home, peering inside a window using a flashlight, spotting someone inside standing near a window and telling her, “Put your hands up—show me your hands,” before shooting seconds later. At no point did he identify himself as an officer.
On July 5, Pensacola Police Detective Daniel Siemen shot and killed Tymar Crawford, who had fled from an attempted traffic stop at low speed, struggled with police after exiting his vehicle and disarmed an officer during the struggle.
Mayor Grover Robinson didn’t release any of the officers’ body cam videos. First, he said that he wanted to wait for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and Pensacola Police (PPD) to finish their investigations. That happened in September. We don’t know FDLE’s conclusions, but PPD ruled Sieman violated the department’s use of deadly force policy. Chief Tommi Lyter fired him.
Last week, Inweekly requested the city release the videos since the investigations had been completed. City Attorney Susan Woolf denied the request, citing the active criminal investigation information exemption. She wrote, “lt remains exempt because of the ongoing investigation by the State Attorney’s Office and the anticipated convening of the grand jury.”
However, while he had the right to use that exemption, Mayor Robinson wasn’t required to do so. Like Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, he could have made the videos available shortly after the shooting.
The Florida Government in the Sunshine Manual states the active criminal investigative and intelligence information exemption “does not prohibit the disclosure of the information by the criminal justice agency.” Mayor Robinson would not have broken the law if he had PPD release the videos.
Robinson chose not to release them, and the public was denied videos that would have helped residents understand what happened, how the police officer violated city policy and why he was fired.
Mayor Price released the video because of her belief in transparency. She did it because her “citizens don’t feel safe. They are scared, tired and hopeless.”
Transparency shouldn’t be an elective. When he ran for mayor, Robinson touted how he turned around a tarnished image for the Escambia County Commission from one of scandal to the most open and transparent governmental body in our region. His transition team stressed openness and transparency.
However, transparency shouldn’t be shunned when the information may not be good. Openness is critical in building trust. Let’s hope Mayor Robinson becomes more consistent in his transparency.