Media coverage features insights from Jones on public records, police body cams
Jonathan Jones is an instructor in the School of Communications and the director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition.
Elon's Jonathan Jones recently offered commentary on requesting public records in North Carolina for "On the Record," a weekly panel discussion program from Raleigh-based WRAL, and provided insights for a Washington Post article focused on North Carolina's laws related to body cameras worn by police officers.
On April 8, Jones was joined for "On the Record" by host David Crabtree, WRAL producer Randall Kerr and attorney Hugh Stevens of Raleigh, who serves as general counsel for the N.C. Press Association. Asked about the state of access to public records in North Carolina, Jones noted that it can vary across public agencies.
"I generally say that things are moving in a positive direction, but we still have agencies that are incredibly resistent to public records requests," Jones said. "We also have consistent erosion of our public records law in the General Assembly. Every year they meet, they pass a few more exemptions."
One of those legislative changes enacted last year impacted the public release of footage from body cameras worn by law enforcement officers, an issue that was central to a recent article by the Washington Post's Cleve R. Wootson Jr. The article, "A body cam captured a copy's violent encounter with a teen - but a new law keeps the video secret," centers on an incident in Greensboro, N.C., during a Fourth of July celebration last year.
Footage exists of the arrest of teenager Jose Charles during the encounter, but the passage of HB 972 last year is making it difficult to obtain the public release of the video depicting what happened leading up to the teen's injury and arrest. The law requires members of the public to pay a fee and make an argument to a Superior Court judge for why the footage should be made public.
Jones notes in the article that the new law raises a high bar for the release of police video records even higher. "It created a significant hurdle for anyone who wants to see police video,” he said. “That hurdle is they have to go to court, they have to pay a $200 fee — just to ask for permission to see it. And they have to file legal documents … with the assistance of a lawyer. And then there’s a hearing to be held if there’s a dispute over whether or not a video should be released.”