CPD Supt. Johnson explains why no audio recovered from fatal police shooting
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The Chicago Police Department disclosed Tuesday that there is no audio of the shooting of Harith Augustus until after the fatal shots were fired — at least from the two officers most directly involved.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson explained police body cameras start saving video and recording audio only after officers double-tap the button on the body cams they are required to wear.
At that point, a video buffer goes back to save the prior 30 seconds of what the camera saw — but it saves video only, without audio. It saves both video and audio going forward from the time the officer double-taps.
The snippet of video released Sunday lasts about 40 seconds. In it, Augustus can be seen reaching for his wallet; what looks like a Firearm Owners Identification card also is visible. At around the 11-second mark, Augustus starts to break free from police. At 12 seconds, CPD froze the video to show the gun on the victim’s waist.
Augustus then continues to turn and run into the street as an officer can be seen holding a gun. At the 20-second mark, Augustus appears to be reaching for his own weapon. He starts to go down 27seconds in. By 32 seconds, he’s on the ground.
Since Augustus was shot before the 30-second buffer is over, there is no audio from the two officers most directly involved, until after a probationary officer fires the shots that killed the 37-year-old barber.
It is not yet known whether other officers on the scene had double-tapped earlier, which could mean that some audio of the shooting itself still could be recovered.
Chicago police officers are equipped with Axon Body 2 cameras. Axon was formerly known as Taser International, which primarily sold stun guns before going into the body-camera business in 2009.
Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Axon, explained that the 30-second video buffer on the company’s cameras doesn’t include audio in order to protect officers’ privacy.
He said the company’s body-worn cameras have always come with an audio-free video buffer. The reason, he said, is that cops feared they might tell a joke or discuss a personal situation like a divorce before they double-pressed the large button on the device to activate it. They didn’t want their private conversations to become public along with the buffer that preserves 30 seconds of video before the device is activated, he said.
Police supervisors and unions leaders across the country didn’t want to have audio recorded along with the video buffer, Tuttle said.
Police departments weren’t just concerned about their officers’ privacy concerns. They didn’t want to discourage their cops from activating their body cameras after they were involved in an incident such as a police-involved shooting, Tuttle said.
“Civil libertarians have also found the no-audio feature reasonable,” he added. The company’s body-worn cameras have always come with an audio-free video buffer, Tuttle said.
Appearing with Johnson at police headquarters was Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said he would wait until the Civilian Office of Police Accountability is “done with every piece of this” investigation before passing judgment on whether a probationary officer was justified in shooting Augustus.
“COPA is gonna do their job. All the questions you have are gonna get answered. You’re also gonna see it for yourself. I don’t think at this point while they’re doing that my energy is gonna be on trying to characterize something so much as help all of us learn from this and learn for the future and hear each other,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said it would be up to COPA to decide when to release body cam video, surveillance video from surrounding stores and blue-light cameras and any audio captured by those devices.
The mayor has been under fire for witholding the Laquan McDonald shooting video until after he was safely re-elected in 2015 and releasing it, only after a judge ordered the city to do so.
The video of white Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke firing sixteen shots at the black teenager was released on the same day that Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder.
Since then, city policy has been changed to mandate release of police shooting videos within 60 days.
“The material that everybody wants to see–when the investigation is wrapped up [and] when they’re complete, they’ll get that material,” the mayor said.
The brief segment of bodycam video that Johnson released Sunday was showcased “for the right reasons of public safety” in an attempt to stop the violent demonstrations, the mayor said.
“It’s not complete. That will happen in due time,” Emanuel said.
In the meantime, the mayor urged all Chicagoans to lower their voices and listen to those who disagree with them, instead of “retreating to their respective corners.”
The shooting sparked protests on Saturday night, which led to clashes between police and demonstrators. Protests were more peaceful on Sunday and Monday.
“I don’t like what I saw on Saturday night,” the mayor said.
“I want officers to hear what community leaders are saying. … I want you guys [in the media] to hear what officers feel….I know you’re trying to do your job. [But] you’ve got to know how it feels for the officers who feel it differently than the way sometimes you report it…You have to hear the officers, in all due respect, who feel that they’re made guilty before they’ve even allowed to tell their side of what happened.”
The fatal shooting occurred about 5:30 p.m. Saturday after a group of officers questioned Augustus, a 37-year-old barber, in the 2000 block of East 71st Street.
In video released Sunday at least four officers approach Augustus. A police spokesman has said they approached because Augustus exhibited “characteristics of an armed person.”
At one point, Augustus appears to pull out his wallet to display an ID. When one officer reaches for Augustus’ right arm, Augustus pulls away. After a struggle, Augustus spins his body toward a police vehicle. That’s when his shirt flies up, revealing a weapon on his right hip.
The Fraternal Order of Police has accused a “biased” and “activist, one-sided” Chicago media of “ramping up every angle they could muster to paint” the Augustus shooting as “unjustified,” even though it was “text book legitimate.”
Contributing: Frank Main
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