Many in this community have dedicated years of our lives at this point to help increase transparency and accountability in policing in this city. That effort has been met with resistance at every level. Your hiring of as chief of police was what some, including myself hoped to be a change to the norm in policing in this city and to some that change has been enough. I supported you getting hired, and believe of the candidates you performed the best and had the most experience.
On last week you announced that the department was changing body cam policy around critical incidents. Just last week you said, “Public interest in use of force incidents involving law enforcement officers is at an all-time high.” You went on to say, “This is partly due to activism and protests when public perception is that an excessive level of force was used by law enforcement. It is also a result of the instantaneous exchange of information through various social media networks. As a result, the law enforcement community must respond to the rapidly changing media landscape that drives communication and public perception in the 21st century.”
Under the new policy for the release of video and audio of critical incidents, the Chief of Police is required to make a decision within 12 days of the incident in question. Once the Chief decides that the release will not interfere with the integrity of the investigation and/or the prosecution, the Baton Rouge Police Department shall release critical incident video evidence as soon as possible. Chief Paul said, “Transparency is essential in policing today. The public’s expectations of law enforcement have evolved, and it is our duty to respond to their concerns,” you added. “Our new policy demonstrates that the Baton Rouge Police Department is a law enforcement agency committed to accountability and constant improvement.”
Since your hiring at the beginning of this year you have made some positive changes to the leadership of the department and some policies. However, releasing this policy and then immediately refusing to release the footage of this critical incident is problematic. I agree with the you that we need more transparency, but what we see happening here is not transparent, equitable, or progressive.
A 21 year old kid is sitting in jail in this parish, on the word of a cop who shot a man in the back and killed him last year.
There is no gun, and the public is being told that we can’t see the footage of the incident and given no justifiable reason. I’m writing you because last year this city approved funding for body cameras to help increase transparency and now that transparency is being denied by you sir. On yesterday you denied a request to see the footage of what took place with this young man, and I simply believe that is unacceptable.
“Raheem Howard, 21, of 6952 Carvel Court, Baker, was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on attempted first-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon. Howard allegedly shot at officer Yuseff Hamadeh earlier this month on North 15th Street after a traffic stop.”
If Mr. Howard shot at Officer Hamadeh he should spend time in jail for his actions. I want to be clear in saying that. I do not condone violence against police, the men and women who do the job of policing our communities deserve to be able to go home to their families at night.
When Raheem Howard was perp walked out of state police headquarters that night, he said, “They said I had a gun, but I didn’t have nothing in my hand,” said Howard, shaking his head. “They got the dash camera and the body camera. I got out and ran. I didn’t have nothing. I had no gun at all. … I’m innocent. I’m only 21 years old. … I didn’t do nothing but run.”
I listened to that video over and over that night and watched Howard’s body language and I have questions on this incident. Why? Because Officer Hamadeh is the same officer who last year shot and killed Jordan Frazier with 2 shots to the back and 1 to the leg. This means Officer Hamadeh shot a man who was running away from him in the back.
In the incident with Fraizer there was no body or dash cam footage available. The city at the time only had one precinct fitted with cameras, and the dash cam on the car allegedly didn’t work.
How does the public trust that an officer who shot a man in the back and killed him, did so justifiably? Because the officer said so? Now in this incident, the young man fleeing survives the encounter and says he is innocent.
There is one clear way to know if he is or isn’t, release the tapes and show the public what took place when Officer Hamadeh fired his weapon.
I have deep concerns with this situation, because over the last year and a half my team and I have submitted multiple public records request for video footage of officer involved shootings or incidents. Not a single one of those request has been fulfilled.
Each of these incidents involves different officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department.
In June, I shared photos of a 16 year old who was bit by police dogs. His story was troubling. I talked with leaders in the mayors office and the police department. Today is August 28th and we still have yet to see the footage.
In April Tonisha Hawkins an army vet was allegedly roughed up and had bruises on her abdomen from an encounter with a Baton Rouge Police officer, we submitted pubic records request for the footage and to this date have not received any footage.
In November of 2017, Calvin Toney was shot and killed at his apartment by a Baton Rouge Police officer. I personally spoke with officials about the incident, and submitted a public records request. Nearly a year later, we still have yet to see the body cam footage for the shooting which officers have said was justified.
How are we the public to trust, what we can’t see? Also, what was the purpose of purchasing body cameras for the department if at every turn we request to see what took place with an officer, the department can refuse to release the footage until your department deems it appropriate to show the public? Footage is usually released months or years later when many have forgotten the incident even happened.
It is my belief that the metro council at this point needs to step up and create law, not police department policy concerning the release of footage and audio of incidents involving police. It must be law, because if it is police handbook policy, it can be changed with a new chief of police almost without public scrutiny. Or we end up here, with a lack of transparency, while being told we are increasing transparency.
I supported you being hired as chief of police, and I’m frankly disappointed that consistently the public is denied full transparency.
Chief, I’m formally and publicly asking you to release the footage of each of the incidents listed above. The public deserves to see how the officers we pay conduct themselves while on duty. Refusing to do so says that we have selective transparency, which isn’t transparency at all.
What we see in those tapes will undoubtedly cause tough conversations in this community — but those conversations must be had if we are to truly create stronger relationships between the police and the communities that pay their salaries. It is a fact that Officer Hamadeh shot and killed Jordan Fraizer last summer with two gunshots to the back. To ask the public to trust the process on an officer who killed a man by shooting him in the back, then refusing to show the public an incident where he shot at another man fleeing sends all the wrong messages.
I’m asking that you not just talk the talk, but that you walk the walk and release the footage on each of the incidents above, saying that the case is under investigation alone is simply not a good enough response. I await your response.
In Truth and Justice,
Gary Chambers Jr.
The Rouge Collection