BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Burlington Police Department for withholding body camera footage. It stems from an incident last summer when a man claimed he saw a Burlington officer assault a child. But should all video be public? Queen City's top cop told our Eva McKend it's complicated and he's also concerned about the privacy rights of juveniles.
"New Americans, refugees, all of the above and then to have these police officers come up and show the force the way they did are going to affect these kids the rest of their lives. They're never going to look at police the same-- ever," Reed Doyle said.
Doyle was walking his dog last summer in the Old North End when he spotted what he describes as a disproportionate police response to a playground fight at Roosevelt Park between children.
"A female officer came in. Instead of de-escalating the situation, I felt like she escalated the situation by threatening to pepper-spray the kids if they didn't get back," Doyle said.
But it was what Doyle saw shortly after that outraged him. According to the Burlington father, as one of the children was walking backward with his hands up, an officer pushed the child forcefully with both arms. Doyle says the boy couldn't have been more than 13.
"If the child would have done the same to the police officer, it would have been assault," Doyle said.
So Doyle set off on a mission to see the body camera footage but he says no one initially paid any attention to his complaint. Months later on appeal, the Burlington police chief said Doyle could see the footage but it would have to be heavily redacted and it would cost him hundreds of dollars, setting the stage for a showdown between the Queen City Police Department and the ACLU of Vermont who agreed to represent Doyle.
"If the law were different and not so abundantly clear, I would have been happy to give it out," Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said. "But Vermont, in my opinion, has clear expectations of privacy that require redaction. This is very labor-intensive and the law is also clear about the fact that we can charge for the labor to protect the taxpayers' interest when we encounter labor-intensive public records requests."
Del Pozo says he's also concerned about the young people in the park that day who were witnesses and were not arrested.
"They were involved in a situation. I'm sure that they are going to look back and say it was an overreaction," del Pozo said.
But why does Doyle have to cough up so much cash just to see what he says he already saw in real time?
"The conflict between transparency and privacy is not present in this case. That's because Mr. Doyle witnessed these events. He is seeking to inspect records, not to get a copy but just to look at things that he actually witnessed," said Jay Diaz, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Vermont.
Del Pozo has a different interpretation of the law.
"I'm a fan of giving out video nearly all the time. In fact, if I had my druthers, I would adopt a policy of transparency that would bring the ACLU back to the seat here saying that I'm giving away too much," del Pozo said. "It says that we need to protect the identity of not only juveniles but also victims and witnesses."
"It's really about accountability and holding police officers accountable for their actions," Doyle said.
The chief says the responding officers were counseled on de-escalation of force.
This legal battle is only just beginning.
You can see the full debate between Chief Brandon del Pozo and Vermont ACLU Attorney Jay Diaz Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on "You Can Quote Me."