At a Thursday press conference in Mobile, AL-2 congressional candidate State Sen. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) announced plans to file legislation to make police bodycam footage public record. She is dedicating the legislation to a man killed by Mobile police in July.
Jawan Dallas died after an encounter with police on July 2 after being detained in response to a 911 call about a break-in at a trailer home. According to Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine, Dallas struggled with police when they attempted to subdue him.
After being detained, Dallas told police he was having difficulty breathing due to asthma. EMS was called out to render aid. Dallas was taken to the hospital, where he died. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing in Dallas’ death, but the family is suing the City of Mobile and the two officers involved, claiming wrongful death, assault/battery, unconstitutional policy, retaliation, unlawful seizure and unlawful use of force.
At the press conference at Mobile’s Government Plaza, Coleman highlighted several high-profile cases in which surviving family members of individuals killed by police expressed difficulty in accessing police bodycam footage. Coleman said that Jawan Dallas’ mother, who did not attend the press conference, fully supported her legislation.
“We’re here today because families and individuals have had challenges and problems being able to have access to bodycam footage to be able to prove or disprove what the rumor mill is saying about what has happened to their loved ones,” Coleman said. “So, I am introducing legislation to make the bodycam and dash cam process more transparent.”
She continued, “[T]he gravity of the situation, why we are here today is because in July of this year, a young man was killed that should still be here today.”
After speaking, Coleman led the gathered crowd in a chant of “justice for Jay,” the abbreviated name of Jawan Dallas.
Coleman labored to drive home the sentiment that the bill was not an indictment of individual police officers, saying law enforcement should be “lining up to help and support” the accountability provided by the bill.
“This is not an indictment on law enforcement at all,” Coleman continued. “There are oftentimes very awesome law enforcement officers; I used to be married to one. But there are also bad apples. And we got to be able to highlight if those bad apples exist. So we have to have some transparency in the bodycam situation so the public can see the videos, so the media can have access to the videos to either prove or disprove what’s going on in the rumor mill.”
Coleman said the bill would legally designate bodycam and dashcam video as public records susceptible to scrutiny. The bill also establishes an appeal process in the case that law enforcement fails or refuses to provide footage upon request.
Despite her vigorous support of the legislation, Coleman acknowledged that getting it passed would be an “uphill battle” and that the legislature’s predominately white, Republican makeup had already watered down the bill.
“140 members in the Alabama Legislature, only 37 Democrats, only 35 African Americans,” she explained. “That’s why the bill is watered down in the manner that it is right now. That’s why it’s watered down like how it is. But it is an uphill battle. But with all uphill battles, in order to win the victory, we got to start somewhere. So this piece of legislation is the first step in many steps in order to try to have more transparency when it comes to bodycams.”
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that bodycam and dashcam footage are considered investigative materials, and therefore not subject to the state’s public records laws.
According to Coleman, the bill contains a redaction provision, allowing for redaction of video portions that could harm an ongoing investigation.
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