An Alamance County superior court judge has ordered the release of body camera footage and other recordings that law enforcement officials produced during a “march to the polls” that ended in the dispersal of pepper spray and arrests after it reached Graham’s Court Square on October 31.
Judge Andy H. Hanford formally signed an order on Tuesday that instructs Graham’s municipal police department and the office of Alamance County’s sheriff to hand over unedited copies of the recordings they made during the ill-fated gathering.
“The photos/recordings speak for themselves.”
– SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE ANDY H. HANFORD
Hanford ordered the release of these materials in response to a petition that several news media organizations had filed in January to obtain law enforcement recordings of the event.
In the absence of this footage, the event’s participants and law enforcement officials have shared sharply conflicting accounts of the march, and a subsequent rally at the county’s historic courthouse, which racial equity advocates had staged on the last day of early voting before last year’s election.
In a follow-up to this petition, Mike Tadych, an attorney for the various news outlets, specified that the requested materials “include, but are not limited to, recordings from all-body worn cameras, dashboard cameras, handheld recording devices of any kind, drones/unmanned aerial vehicles, stationary cameras, or any other video or audio recording devices operated by or on behalf of a law enforcement agency or law enforcement personnel…at the time of the first contact [with the marchers] at the courthouse.”
Among the news organizations that signed onto this petition are the McClatchy Company, which owns the Raleigh News & Observer; Carolina Public Press; Capitol Broadcasting, the proprietor of WRAL; Lee Enterprises, which owns the Greensboro News & Record; Hearst Properties, the owner of WXII; and the Gannett Company, which owns the Burlington Times News. Other petitioners include Mackenzie Wilkes, John Norcross, and Grace Terry of the Elon News Network.
In the order he signed Tuesday, Hanford indicates that he personally reviewed all of the requested materials over the course of eight days in May. The judge goes on to assert that the release of these records “is necessary to advance a compelling public interest.”
Although Hanford also concedes that these materials could reveal information “of a highly sensitive personal nature” that “may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person,” he nevertheless finds that they “would NOT create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.”
“The photos/recordings speak for themselves,” the judge states in a fine print addition to the check list-style text of his order. “This court does not have the authority to censor the photos/recordings absent a compelling government interest, and none was sustained. The court gives great weight to transparency and public accountability of police action, and the failure to release the photos/recordings would undermine the public trust and confidence in the administration of justice.”
Hanford ultimately directs the sheriff’s office and Graham’s municipal police force to release “all recordings and photographs” relevant to the request “without redaction or alteration” by 2:00 p.m. on Friday, June 25.