Overview:

Roberts released the audio and video recordings after NAACP Clayton County Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin sent Roberts a letter asking that they be made public:

The Clayton County Police Department has issued 911 audio and censored bodycam footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting March 23 on Jenni Circle in Jonesboro.

Charles Calhoun, 68, was shot dead after several neighbors called to report a man with a rifle on the street. The month before, according to Calhoun’s wife, burglars had thrown a brick through their window. A CCPD spokesperson said no burglaries had been reported at that address on March 23, but that “an act of vandalism was reported on February 7…. The report showed that a rear kitchen window was damaged. The complainant called in to a Clayton 2 County Precinct advising they believed a juvenile threw a brick through the window. E-911 did not receive any phone calls from the [Calhoun] or anyone residing at [his] address” during the March 23 incident.

Calhoun’s family told reporters he thought someone had been trying to break into the house.

Who’s in the edit bay?

A March 23, 2022 letter from NAACP Clayton County Branch to Clayton County Police Chief Kevin Roberts about Charles Calhoun’s fatal officer-involved shooting early that morning. Officers shot Calhoun after several neighbors called 911 to report a man with a long gun walking around Jenni Circle in Jonesboro. Calhoun’s wife said someone had thrown a brick through their window a week earlier.

Chief Kevin Roberts forwarded the March 23 letter from NAACP Clayton Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin, who wrote, “Our community is stunned to see the recent police involved shooting that ended in loss of life for a Clayton County resident. Even more stunning was the different accounts coming from CCPD and the family. The NAACP Clayton is requesting that the body cam recording be released immediately. 

“Please know that the NAACP Clayton is open to having a conversation with you regarding this travesty. Whenever there is loss of life, whether it is a police officer or citizen, our community suffers. Thank you in advance to your response to this request.”

A March 25, 2022 letter from Clayton County Police Department Chief Kevin Roberts to NAACP Clayton County Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin. Roberts told Baldwin he had directed the Community Affairs Unit “to take steps to post the video to our social media site,” and that he estimated it would take a week to do so.

What constitutes transparency?

According to the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Blue Book, which is a guide to how Georgia’s Open Records Act applies to law enforcement, “Police in-car camera or body camera recordings in ‘closed cases’ are subject to the Act’s disclosure requirements. Georgia appellate courts have not determined whether such recordings are open records prior to a case being closed.”

However, Roberts said he was releasing the video anyway, due to intense public interest in the case.

Roberts has previously released 911 and bodycam footage in controversial cases like the Jonesboro teenagers a CCPD officer held at gunpoint in June 2020. A store owner had reported they had been waving a gun, which looked real but turned out to be a BB gun. This was during the height of the George Floyd protests. Passersby who saw the officer began pulling over and shooting cellphone video of the incident, begging the officer not to shoot the teens.

On March 14, National Freedom of Information Center Director Todd Fettig wrote, “The public too often is being denied access to police body- and dash-cam footage. This ranks as the most critical issue related to freedom of information and technology…Other critical FOI-technology issues include public access to government emails and access to metadata embedded in electronic records.”

NFOIC did a survey in February of state and local open-government groups like GFAF. The groups were asked “to evaluate critical freedom of information issues in technology.” On a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 meaning “no problem” and 4 meaning “an extreme problem,” this is what they found:

  • 3.08: Access to police body-cam and dash-cam video
  • 2.79: Access to government emails
  • 2.77: Access to metadata embedded in electronic records
  • 2.73: Access to relational databases for citizens to analyze
  • 2.71: Affordable fees for accessing government data
  • 2.69: Proactive posting of government records online by agencies
  • 2.63: Destruction by agencies of electronic records/data, even though storage is not an issue
  • 2.56: Efficient online platforms for requesters to submit/track requests

“Advances in technology have the potential to enhance government transparency and allow greater access to the records that we, the public, own,” Fettig said, “but governments need to catch up. Outdated technology and practices, in addition to sometimes outright secrecy, make public records harder to obtain, which erodes the public trust, leaves people in the dark, and undermines our democracy. The intersection of FOI and technology gives us an opportunity to turn a corner, from a culture of secrecy to a culture of transparency.” 

While screening uncensored video is an unpleasant task, it is one that many journalists do. When a police agency or other government official decides what the public can see and hear, that is censorship.

Isaac said, “The Clayton County Police Department is responsive to community concerns and will review the entire incident and report their findings as they become available. No additional statements will be made concerning this incident as it is an on-going investigation.” The Clayton Crescent has asked Roberts how many officers and vehicles were on scene, how many had cameras, and whether he would release all the camera footage without CCPD editing it first.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.

Charles, whom the AJC reports was a COVID-19 survivor who had trouble walking, was buried at South-View Cemetery on April 9.

Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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