Ferguson. Cincinnati. North Charleston. Three of many cities in which the government’s own video provides critical evidence of when law enforcement should—and should not—be charged with criminal acts.
Publically released government video has changed what you know and when you know it.
But not always. And not everywhere. Here in Chatham County, officials refuse to release video and documents related to the death of an inmate more than eight months ago.
And a new case just four hours up the road in Athens draws another stark contrast with Chatham county.
“Stop! You are under arrest!”
It is police body camera video that rocked the Athens-Clarke police department.
June 13th — officer Jonathan Fraser confronts an intoxicated Michael Roquet at a local hotel.
Roquet has been ordered off the property — but then gets angry when Officer Fraser puts his hands on him.
“I’m trying to talk to you, and you’re going to hit me?!” Roquet says in the video.
Which leads to a confrontation even more violent.
Fraser’s baton hits roquet repeatedly.
Nine baton strikes in all.
In four days — Fraser would be placed on administrative leave.
In less than three weeks, Fraser would be fired…
And one month after that — August 3rd — an arrest warrant was issued for Fraser for aggravated assault.
“Our officers are taught to de-escalate, and if they can’t de-escalate, use the minimum amount of force necessary. And in my opinion, Officer Fraser went beyond that,” said ACCPD Assistant Chief Carter Greene.
Fraser now awaits criminal trial.
Just like two Chatham County sheriff’s deputies who pleaded not guilty and await trial in the death of Matthew Ajibade at the Chatham county jail.
But that’s where similarities end.
Eight months on — the Chatham county sheriff and district attorney still have not released a comprehensive account, just a news release and heavily revised jail logs
WSAV has repeatedly requested documents in the case under the Georgia records act — which stipulates records of an agency under investigation are not exempt from release.
In response — the d-a and sheriff sued WSAV, asking a judge to suppress jailhouse video and internal affairs reports from public disclosure.
A judge complied — and the case is headed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
The DA’s office even successfully pursued a gag order against the Ajibade family’s attorney — and sought to gag former deputy Maxine Evans’ defense attorney.
They entered an order to prevent defense attorneys from speaking about evidence handed over to them.
And they never notified Ajibade’s family of a death certificate — then sent an investigator to the health department to find out how his family got it.
Prosecutor Christie Barker then announced a different cause of death in superior court.
But by contrast, WSAV requested Officer Fraser’s body camera video from Athens-Clarke Police, which had already been produced to other media outlets.
In two business days — the department sent by mail: the body camera video, the incident report from June, photographs of Michael Roquet’s injuries, the internal affairs investigation, surveillance video from the surrounding area that night, police radio recordings and interviews and Officer Fraser’s personnel file..
…all produced under the same open records law Chatham county has used to shield records in the Ajibade death from the public.
The only other item from the Athens list Chatham County released were the personnel files — and those were scrubbed of any disciplinary action taken against the deputies in the death of Ajibade.
And yet — in both cases — all of these materials are almost certain to be used in a criminal trial against the officers.
Athens-Clarke’s assistant chief explained his department’s rationale.
“Our officers were eager to get body cameras, every one of them, when we started deploying them. I think this just makes it easier to be transparent. I think society is going to expect that,” Greene said.
District Attorney Meg Heap said she would not comment on the Athens case because it is in another judicial circuit.
And in the Ajibade case — referred us to the court order WSAV has taken to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
This is all in sharp contrast to the handling of the Charles Smith case— an officer involved shooting—in which surveillance video of Smith’s arrest was publically released within days of his death from police gunfire.
In that same case, the district attorney also employed a seldom used two-step grand jury process, she said, to enhance public transparency.
Yet, important video and records in the New Year’s Day death of Matthew Ajibade remain hidden from public view.