On Friday, the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office and Boston Police Department released a video depicting part of the widely publicized March 27 shooting incident in Roxbury. The video confirms the account of the shooting that police have provided to the public thus far. It shows police conducting a traffic stop of Angelo West, who produces a firearm and shoots Officer John Moynihan point blank in the face. West flees from the police off camera, where he is fatally shot.
While the video has been released to the public, District Attorney Dan Conley has yet to rule on whether the shooting by police was justified and the investigation of the incident is still ongoing. According to a statement from the police department, the injured police officer John Moynihan was released from the hospital over the weekend and his "condition is best described as serious but improving."
Many in local media are praising the decision to release the video, saying it shows how transparent the district attorney and Boston police department are being. Ed Davis, the former Boston police commissioner who now works for WBZ, said of the decision to release the video: "After Ferguson, and after all the things that have happened across the nation, this is the new standard."
But this talk of police setting a "new standard" by releasing the video ignores the fact that police are already obligated by the state's public records law to turn over copies of records to any member of the public who asks for them. Law enforcement can sometimes withhold information related to an ongoing investigation, but must show that releasing the records would compromise the investigation.
There are actually three videos of the shooting incident, but only one of them has been released to the general public even though the other two have already been shown to several community members handpicked by law enforcement. According to The Boston Herald:
“The video we saw had a better angle than the video they posted today ... it was a very difficult video to watch,” Michael Curry told the Herald. “The video that you saw today was not as tough to see as the video we saw.”
Curry said he and other community leaders were shown a third video... after the family of Angelo West... raised concerns about whether cops made an effort to save him.
“They took us downstairs to show us a second video that we hadn’t seen yet and that’s the video that shows a man that appears to be Mr. West collapsing with a gun in his hand and then police running up and removing the gun and turning him over onto his back,” Curry said. “It seems clear from that video that because of the location of the injuries, the police were able to determine that he was deceased by the time he hit the ground.”
Given that police were able to show these two videos additional to a small group of community members who are not part of the investigation, it is apparent that releasing these videos would not hamper their efforts.
We made a public records request on March 29 for videos of the shooting, but the Boston Police Department has not yet responded to it even though state law mandates compliance with records requests within 10 days. The police did not even respond to alert us when they released the first video, suggesting that they do not take their obligations under state law seriously.
While many are heaping praise on Boston law enforcement for releasing this video, we don't believe that they deserve any of it when they won't even follow existing standards for transparency.
We have filed an appeal with the Supervisor of Records, requesting that the police be ordered to comply with our records request.