JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Following roaring demands by Jacksonville protesters for more transparency, the State Attorney’s Office on Tuesday announced it plans to make changes to its policy involving the public release of body-worn camera (BWC) video of officer-involved shooting incidents.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson said in a memo that her office plans to release body camera footage from the officer-involved shooting of Jamee Johnson, a 22-year-old man who was shot and killed by an officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office during a traffic stop last year.
Family of Johnson were among the protesters calling for the release of all body camera video related to police-involved shootings as nationwide calls for police reform spread across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Nelson said the State Attorney’s Office is working to bring the investigation of Johnson’s shooting to a conclusion and that the footage of the incident will be made available “at the same time we render our decision and findings.”
It’s unclear how soon the video will be released to the public.
“We’re just trying to figure out how a traffic stop escalates into a shootout, basically an execution,” Harvey Johnson, father of Jamee Johnson, told News4Jax last week.
JSO said Johnson was shot while he was reaching for a handgun that was later found in the car. The family’s attorney told News4Jax there are witnesses who have provided different versions of events and that Johnson lawfully possessed the gun.
The State Attorney’s Office said it is in the process of reviewing all of its current practices involving body camera footage and laid out its current practices and potential changes in a lengthy memo.
“In addition to reviewing our current practices, we are also working to create a policy related to BWC footage during an (officer-involved shooting) investigation,” the memo states. “This policy will balance the integrity of investigative action and the public’s right to transparency. We have identified several opportunities that exist for improvement upon our current practices, including determining a date certain by which BWC footage will be made available to the public in all (officer-involved shooting) incidents. We also intend to solicit feedback from the community as part of this process in implementing the new BWC policy.”
The SAO said it analyzes all officer-involved shooting incidents that occur in the Fourth Judicial Circuit to determine whether an officer’s use of force was lawful or not. Currently, the SAO said it has an 11-member rotation of Assistant State Attorneys who respond to officer-involved shootings in Clay, Duval, and Nassau counties.
“Recently, the public has demanded the immediate release of BWC footage, prior to the conclusion of an (officer-involved shooting) investigation,” the memo states. “JSO has advised that it is legally prevented from releasing BWC footage prior to any administrative hearing of a shooting officer, which occurs after the conclusion of the criminal investigation by the SAO. As a result, moving forward, the SAO will determine the public release of BWC footage in (officer-involved shooting) incidents.”
That could mean body camera video is released months sooner than in the past.
“With them releasing it earlier now that’s a great victory. A small step. We have a long way to go but this is a wonderful step,” said Pastor Don Johnson with House of Prayer.
Johnson organized this weekend’s march from JSO headquarters to the Duval County Courthouse demanding more police accountability.
“I am a firm believer in accountability,” he added. “Accountability across the board. It’s good for the community to see, good for it to be reported properly.”
JSO launched its body camera pilot program in Nov. 2018. By Dec. 2019, all JSO patrol officers were outfitted with body cameras, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
There is also support for this move coming from the local police union.
“When these body-worn cameras are released I think it’s gonna’ show that unfortunately and tragically a lot of times we’re forced into these situations,” said Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona. “I think it’s going to show the picture for the entire community that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and they can trust us.”
News4Jax records show that since Nov. 2018, there have been 21 police-involved shootings in which 23 people have been shot. Not all of the officers involved were wearing body cameras.
The State Attorney’s Office has ruled that four of the 21 officer-involved shootings in Jacksonville were justifiable. Of those four, only one officer was wearing a body camera. That was Officer Tyler Landreville when he shot and killed Frankie Feliciano in July 2019. The JSO Response to Resistance Board has yet to sign off on that shooting. If it does, it would be the first body camera in a police shooting that could be cleared for release.
News4Jax Crime and Safety Expert Ken Jefferson said Jacksonville does take considerably longer to release video than many other cities around Florida.
“The public’s been crying out for it for quite some time," Jefferson said. “What perplexes me though is the fact that suddenly they can do it. All of a sudden a light came on and they’re looking to change the way they operate now. I know it’s because of the public outcry.”