The City of Mobile is considering a citywide policy concerning police bodycam footage and no-knock and pre-dawn raids but must first hear from state officials on the legality of such policies.
The City Council was set to vote on two amendments Tuesday but put it for 30 days. The City is asking the Alabama Attorney General's Office to issue an opinion on the amendments after realizing they may be overstepping their legal bounds.
The first change being considered would make it City policy to disclose body-worn camera footage to those who properly request it, with certain exemptions still in place, such as active criminal investigations, video protected by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and other legal bases under Alabama or federal law.
The proposed ban on no-knock warrants and pre-dawn raids stated, "No law enforcement personnel employed by the City of Mobile shall seek, execute, or participate in the execution of a no-knock warrant at any location within the boundaries of the City of Mobile" and "No law enforcement personnel employed by the City of Mobile shall authorize or perform a pre-dawn raid."
However, the policy would still allow for exceptions in limited circumstances following the approval of the chief of police and the director of public safety.
In those situations, there would have to be probable cause to believe there is a risk of injury to law enforcement or citizens and that there is felony activity at the location.
Police already operate off these exceptions when authorizing and executing search warrants. A judge usually signs off on search warrants before entry is made on any premise.
The question is not whether the policy is legal but whether the council can dictate police department policy. Councilman Cory Penn said he doesn't want to change what the police department is doing but wants to ensure future police leadership cannot change the policy.
The Zoghby Act gave Mobile's government-specific roles and authority, and some legal experts say putting these policies into place could violate the act.
After discussion, Councilman William Carroll stated that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is "just another attorney" with an opinion.
"It doesn't matter what the attorney general says because he does not rule on constitutional issues," Carroll added. "And you lawyers should be aware of that. That challenging legislative authority is a constitutional issue."
City Attorney Ricardo Woods disagreed.
"I want us to understand that, actually, the Attorney General is not just another attorney. He is the chief law enforcement installed and dually elected by the people. Secondly, that is exactly what the attorney general does, is opine on constitutional, state issues. That is exactly what happens. In fact, if you need to challenge a constitutional issue, you have to alert the attorney general," Woods stated.
Discussion of policy began after the high-profile death of Jawan Dallas, who died from medical conditions exacerbated by drug use and a struggle with police. Citizens have been asking the City to release body-worn camera footage of Dallas being detained in connection to an investigation.
Citizens were allowed to address the council on Tuesday. For the second week in a row, a person supporting police and calling for violence on the streets to end was addressed by a council member.
Council President CJ Small interrupted Sabrina Mass after she mentioned Sgt. John Young, who formed Men United Against Violence.
"I'm going to get to my point," Mass continued. "I'm talking about gun violence if you'll let me get to it."
She then said she was more worried about citizens killing her than police killing her.
"We say, 'Black lives matter,' do our lives matter?" she said. "Do my babies' lives matter? They [are] black children. I'm tired of it."
Mass called on the community to protest gun violence, especially in times such as the death of nine-year-old Cailee Knight, who was killed last week while sleeping in her home.
Following Knight's death, Young addressed the council and was interrupted by Councilman Penn, who called Young's take on violence and the City's reaction to it a "false narrative."
"To come and make a statement and say the council is only talking about the police officer is a lie," Penn said. "And I'm really disappointed. I'm truly disappointed."
This week, Penn acknowledged the heated exchange and said he was angry but wanted to work with the police and the community.
Sgt. John Goodwin, who has been with the Mobile Police Department for 29 years, also spoke this week ahead of the vote. He called the amendments unlawful. He said the City's overreaching on police policy would have a "devastating effect on morale" within the police department by showing officers the council has mistrust in the department.
Goodwin praised Chief Paul Prine and said the amendments undermined his authority.
Several members of the police department attended Tuesday's meeting.
Sarah Badon of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, Mobile Chapter, also said the organization is against the amendments.
After council members Penn and Small spoke about how they support police, the group of officers left the meeting despite being told they might want to stay.
"If I could just make one comment for everybody who is leaving," said Councilwoman Gina Gregory. "Those of us on the council who had intended to speak were waiting until the agenda item came up for a vote. Y'all might want to stick around."
Officers continued to file out of the council chambers.
At the end of the meeting, Gregory admitted she thought the policy was overstepping and said she supported police who have recently been borderline-slandered following criticism from the public.
The council meeting can be viewed in full below.
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