By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
A coalition of news organizations asked a Weld County District Court judge to modify or rescind his order barring the public release of body-worn and dashboard camera footage from a June incident in which a Greeley police officer allegedly used a chokehold during an arrest.
“Coloradans have a significant interest in the disclosure of information about police officers who use excessive force, especially when an officer places a citizen in a chokehold or neck restraints,” says an objection filed by Rachael Johnson, a Colorado-based attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“It would defeat the purpose” of Colorado’s new body-cam disclosure law, “and only foment public distrust of law of law enforcement,” Johnson added, to deny public access to recordings of incidents of officer misconduct caught on camera.
Judge Vincente Vigil issued the protective order in July after a lawyer for Greeley police officer Kenneth Amick contended that releasing the recordings would jeopardize Amick’s constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial. Amick was charged with second-degree assault after two other officers alleged that he used a chokehold, in violation of a 2020 state law, on a man accused of threatening to burn down a city government building.
“Given the current societal climate and attitudes toward police officers in general and police reform in particular, the release of any incident recordings to the media … has a substantial likelihood to increase public condemnation of Mr. Amick as well as irrevocably taint potential jurors,” wrote defense attorney David Goddard.
But Johnson’s objection says Amick has not shown that public disclosure of the recordings — “purely factual information about the underlying incident” — would prevent him from receiving a fair trial. She cited numerous aspects about the June 7 incident, already reported by the news media, which “do not begin to approach the extent or nature of pretrial publicity that courts have found may be prejudicial to a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.”
And even if release of the recordings could affect some potential jurors, the voir dire (jury selection) process is adequate to protect Amick’s rights, Johnson wrote.
Colorado’s new body-cam and dash-cam footage law, enacted by House Bill 21-1250 and Senate Bill 20-217, requires the release of unedited video and audio recordings of incidents “in which there is a complaint of peace officer misconduct” within 21 days after a request is made. If the video “would substantially interfere with or jeopardize an active or ongoing investigation,” the disclosure can be delayed until 45 days from the date of the allegation of misconduct. A prosecuting attorney must explain in writing why the delayed release is justified, and that statement must be released to the public when the video is released.
The new law, however, also permits a defendant such as Amick to file a constitutional objection to the release of a recording. The prosecutor in the Amick case, Weld County Deputy District Attorney Timothy McCormack, said he agreed with Goddard’s motion during a hearing in July.
The media coalition objecting to the protective order includes FOX31, 9NEWS, Denver7, CBS4, the Associated Press, The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The Denver Gazette. A hearing on the objection is scheduled for early October.
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