KSLA INVESTIGATES: Pushing for police transparency

Pushing for police transparency

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Tommie McGlothen Jr., 44, died April 5 following a violent encounter with police.

Nearly eight weeks passed before the Shreveport man’s death became public knowledge. And that revelation came from Caddo District Attorney James Stewart, who in a news release said that his office “received investigatory files from the Shreveport Police Department” 54 days after McGlothen allegedly “died while in police custody.”

Stewart’s only public comment on the matter was to say that when his office initially reviewed the police files, there were “missing reports, statements, downloads and other vital information that is essential to conduct a thorough and complete review.”

Since that time, calls for police transparency have come from protesters, Shreveport City Council members and the lawyer who now represents McGlothen’s family.

While city officials have confirmed that Louisiana State Police is reviewing of the case, Police Chief Ben Raymond and his department are refusing to bend when pressed to release police dashcam video of the incident.

In light of other recent high-profile cases of excessive use of force in Atlanta (Rayshard Brooks) and Minneapolis (George Floyd), KSLA Investigates wanted to know what full police transparency should look like when a person dies after a violent encounter with police.

So Chief Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron spoke with Merrick Bobb, executive director of the Police Assessment Resource Center, who has been involved with police oversight in numerous cities, including Los Angeles (following the Rodney King case), Seattle and New Orleans.

As a national expert on police transparency, the first step in keeping the public’s trust, according to Merrick, is coming forward Day One and saying a suspect died in police custody.

KSLA Chief Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron talks with police oversight expert Merrick Bobb, executive director of the Police Assessment Resource Center.
KSLA Chief Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron talks with police oversight expert Merrick Bobb, executive director of the Police Assessment Resource Center. (Source: KSLA)

“You need as much transparency as possible. I think the department has an obligation to continue to inform the public.”

The next move, according to Merrick, is having the police chief place the officers involved on administrative leave and seek an independent investigation of the incident.

“From there, the investigators would interview other witnesses and, ultimately, within a short period of time present a case.”

But in the McGlothen case, SPD and its police chief didn’t follow that blueprint for transparency. Almost two months passed before McGlothen’s death came to light. And the police chief didn’t place any officers on administrative leave until the day KSLA Investigates released cellphone video, obtained from a witness, that shows the final moments of McGlothen’s life.

Raymond now criticizes KSLA for releasing the nearly 4.5-minute video that shows McGlothen getting punched, hit with a police baton, tazed multiple times and shoved to the ground while handcuffed.

The police chief told City Council members that the tape does not tell the full story.

But Raymond refuses to sit down with KSLA Investigates to discuss the case because, according to a department spokesperson, “there is an active criminal or administrative investigation.”

Bobb said the next thing police officials should do when a suspect dies in custody is name the cops involved and, if records exist, release information on past complaints against the officers for misconduct or excessive use of force.

“All that should be out there and be transparent,” Bobb said.

However, in the McGlothen matter, the city initially fought releasing the initial police incident report, which identifies the four officers involved. And the city has yet to release any information about their past conduct history with SPD.

“You need communication from the very beginning,” said Bobb. “Otherwise, as a department, you risk losing the public trust. And in the case that happens, no one is safe because people won’t call the police.”

The final step in full transparency, according to Bobb, is releasing police dash and body camera video of the incident in question.

Pointing to the recent shooting death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Bobb said police in Georgia did it right by quickly putting the video out. “Immediately, you got the tape playing and you got your own judgment as to whether the shooting was proper or not.”

While Raymond says his department will release all video once the case wraps up, there is no timeline when that might happen.

And according to Bobb, in the name of full transparency, the only time when police should refuse to release video is when the life or safety of the officer(s) involved may be at risk.

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