JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s pledge to be more transparent under Sheriff T.K. Waters is being challenged by a mother who still wants answers following her son’s death.
Saturday will mark three years since Reginald Boston was shot and killed by JSO officers in an undercover operation that injured another. Police said Boston and two others were involved in an armed robbery that led to a SWAT investigation.
The incident report said, before he was killed, Boston pointed a gun at police.
The shooting was not captured on video because one of the officers was instructed to turn off their bodycam so the light on the device wouldn’t give away their position.
News4JAX went through all JSO’s body-worn camera policies and looked into what they say about deactivating the device. None of the policies mention anything about a light on the camera as being a reason to turn off the camera.
The policies do say supervisory direction, and strategic or JSO operation planning are some of the reasons it can be deactivated.
Now, some may not have sympathy for Boston, 20. The facts of the case are against him.
Police said Boston and two others committed an armed robbery, taking a man’s cell phone at gunpoint. So, the police went undercover to set up a meeting to arrest him.
Officers armed with guns hid in the bushes outside a Northside apartment complex at night and left a walkway clear. When the three suspects got closer to them, according to JSO’s report, one of the officers yelled: “Police! Don’t move!”
Then, according to the report, one of the suspects fired.
Police fired back, and Boston was killed. His autopsy said he had 18 gunshot wounds.
The incident report said that at least four detectives were involved and that their firearms were inspected following the shooting.
Boston’s mother Yvonne Kemp said, if her son was in the wrong, she’ll admit it, once she sees the body-camera footage.
However, there is none.
“I don’t cloak, and I don’t cover up for my children. I don’t uphold wrong,” Kemp said.
According to a lengthy JSO report, an officer turned off his bodycam at the request of SWAT officers because they were told the bright blinking green light on top of the camera would give away their position of concealment making them vulnerable to a possible ambush.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard about that,” said criminologist Alex Del Carmen. “The actual presence of a bodycam on an officer’s vest. I’ve never heard of that generating a light that is so powerful that we would it will compromise a police officer.”
Del Carmen said body-camera policies vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
So, what are JSO’s bodycam policies?
They’ve been changed 10 times since 2018 when JSO officers first started wearing bodycams. So, News4JAX submitted a public records request and looked through every version. One of the deactivation policies from January 2020 was updated just three days after Boston was killed. The policy before then was from 2018.
The majority of the deactivation policies from 2018 to 2020 did not change.
In the deactivation section of the 2018 policy it says before deactivating body-worn cameras, officers must record a statement as to why they are deactivating it including if their supervisor told them to. It’s not clear if that happened in Boston’s case.
Some other instances where they need to record a statement include, if the situation they responded to is over, if they are getting legal counsel or if they’re discussing strategic or tactical JSO operation planning.
It also says, after deactivation, the officer has a responsibility to reactivate it should police activity occur involving the officer.
None of the policies mention the light on the bodycam or deactivating it so the light doesn’t interfere with their response.
In December, the News4JAX I-TEAM started asking JSO questions about this case and had multiple email exchanges over three weeks. News4JAX learned about the agency’s policies and the fact that JSO uses Axon Body 2 bodycams.
But these two key questions weren’t answered by the time this story was published: Were any of the body-worn camera policies broken in this case, and if so, was anyone disciplined? And, is the department considering using a different model of body-worn cameras since the light on the current one, according to at least one SWAT officer, could put JSO officers at risk?
“They should not be able to turn it off period,” Kemp said.
Three years later, with those questions lingering, Kemp said she won’t stop asking questions.
“I’m going to knock on some doors. I’m turning over every rock. I want to know why,” she said. “I’m not going into the next year without knowing what happened to my son.”
For law enforcement officers, bodycams can be used to either confirm or dispute officers’ accounts of crimes.
Recent bodycam videos released by JSO have shown police firing on suspects after the suspects pointed guns at them, confirming what was reported.
On the flip side, earlier this month, a JSO officer was arrested after the events seen on his bodycam didn’t match what the officer wrote in his report. Sheriff Waters had a strong statement after that officer’s arrest.
“Apparently he just didn’t want to tell the truth at that point. Let me say this, we never relish in arresting an employee of this agency. However, our collective belief of openness, transparency and accountability trumps any personal allegiance. We are a society of laws and no one is above the law,” Waters said.
The State Attorney’s Office ruled the actions of the officers in the case justifiable in August of last year.
Del Carmen stresses the importance of clear body-worn camera policies
“There is no question that every police exchange and interaction, with very few exceptions, should be subjected to that footage being captured and police officers should be, should be punished for violating policy if in fact that bodycam has been intentionally turned off in circumstances where especially where somebody could be hurt, or it could lead to somebody’s death,” he said.
Kemp is still looking for clarity in the pages of reports and boxes of evidence, but she can’t look for too long.
“When the truth comes out, I’m going to open them up. Because those bags gonna, what’s in those bags, it’s going to tell a lot,” she said.
Kemp prays that no one else has to live the way she does — without her son and without answers.