Judge refuses to release dashcam video in Aiken cop's death
Thu, 01 Mar 2012 20:24:31 GMT —
AIKEN, S.C. (AP) -- A judge refused Thursday to release the dashboard camera video of a traffic stop that led to the shooting death of an Aiken police officer in December.
Circuit Judge Jack Early held a two-minute hearing before deciding to make his temporary order permanent to keep the public from seeing the video at least until a trial. He sided with a lawyer for 19-year-old Stephon Carter, who said releasing the video would keep him from getting a fair trial.
Carter is charged with murder in the death of officer Scotty Richardson during a traffic stop Dec. 20 and attempted murder after authorities said he shot at a second officer who was saved by his bulletproof vest.
Several media outlets asked for the video under the state's Freedom of Information Act. Early also refused to hear a compromise from a community newspaper called The Jail Report that asked him to let only reporters watch the tape and take notes. Publisher Greg Rickabaugh said one of Early's clerks said he needed a lawyer of his own to formally make the request.
"The defendant's constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial mandates I continue the restraining order," Early said,
The judge's written order did not cite a December ruling by a different Circuit Court judge that ordered the Highway Patrol to release dashboard camera videos unless the agency could prove it would provide specific harm to an investigation.
Carter's attorney asked the tape be kept from the public because it could improperly influence potential jurors. In court documents, Carl B. Grant said releasing the videos "would only improperly serve to inflame the passions of the public and further increase the hostility and vitriolic comments that are already being made."
Prosecutors supported the defense's motion to keep the tape from the public.
Limiting the information released to the media is not unusual when law officers are killed in South Carolina. The State Law Enforcement Division tells little about the incident. It wasn't until Carter's bond hearing nearly a month after the shooting that the public found out why the officers stopped Carter and the sequence of events that led to Richardson's death.
Initially, authorities would only say the shooting happened during a traffic stop and didn't detail why one officer was saved by his bulletproof vest, but Richardson was killed.
During the bond hearing, authorities released more information, saying Richardson and his partner pulled over a car where Carter was a passenger after a report of a drive-by shooting. When one of the officers asked Carter to take his hands out of his pockets, he began firing. Richardson was hit in the abdomen and head. The other officer fired back, hitting Carter in the buttocks. The wound requires him to use a colostomy bag, according to Carter's lawyer.
A second Aiken officer, Sandra Rogers, was shot and killed Jan. 28 during a traffic stop by a man authorities were searching for in connection with the death of his girlfriend. SLED has not released information on what happened during that stop either.
SLED officials said they would explain their policy on what information is released to the media during its investigations into police-involved shootings later Thursday.
Prosecutors have said the case is eligible for the death penalty, but have not formally announced they will seek it.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)