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The man behind the police bodycam disclosure protection bill, former sheriff Rep. Allen McNeil
By John Sanford Friedrich
By the setting of the sun soldiers from the activated national guard of North Carolina were patrolling the streets of our largest city, Charlotte. The night prior had seen disturbances verging on riots, as protestors against the killing of Keith Lamont Scott in murky circumstances turned their frustrations against uptown storefronts.
One of the protestors was also killed in the proximity of the police riot lines; the trial for murder of one of the victim’s fellow protestors is being set to begin. Eye witnesses suggest it was a rubber bullet at point-blank that dealt the lethal blow. We shall have to wait for his trial to learn if any footage can help adjudicate this.
HB972 makes it even harder for citizens to view such recordings taken by police, either on body or dashboard-mounted cameras. Release of such footage was a key demand of these protests. The Charlotte Mecklenburg authorities released a redacted portion of the tape since the demands were made.
The bill taking effect this last Saturday, October 1, allows for the ‘custodial head of the law enforcement agency’ great latitude when determining whether to allow access to such videos. The crucial distinction is that HB972 removes this footage from public records, such as arrest reports, and instead classifies it as personnel files of the individual officers. These records include disclosures during the hiring process and any internal reviews or punishments. Obviously state employees would rather the latter remain difficult for the public, and journalists by extension, to discover.
The new law allows the custodial head to balance preventing harm to the ‘reputation’ of any person and ‘orderly administration of justice’ against the rights of a person depicted in such a recorded encounter to also view them.
No copying of the video will be allowed, preventing it from ever reaching the press. Only persons depicted in the recordings are allowed to even request such a viewing. Those who became deceased or incapacitated during the encounter with law enforcement will have this right extended to their next of kin.
The bill, signed by Governor McCrory on July 11, passed the Senate on a 48-2 vote and the General Assembly with 89-19. Considering the bipartisan appeal of this bill, it is surprising, Rep. Allen McNeil (R-78 Moore) and John Faircloth (R-61 Guilford) were the only two representatives to attach their name to the bill at filing.
McNeil worked for the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department before being appointed in 2012 to fill out the term of Harold Brubaker, who represented the 78th from 1977 until that day. Brubaker is enjoying his time as a lobbyist today.
Rep. McNeil is certainly a law-and-order candidate, as Vice-Chair of Appropriations for Justice and Public Safety, and having introduced bills further restricting the motions of sex offenders and HB958, converting the penalties for injuries due to impaired boating to felonies.
After his appointment he bested Democratic candidate Gerald Parker by three-to-one, running unopposed in 2014. This cycle he is challenged by former social worker, Bill McCaskill on the Democratic ticket.
Considering the uncompetitiveness of this district, he has needed to raise much less in campaign donations than many others of his status in the legislature. Most of his donations are below $1,000 and come from individuals and the commitees of his fellow Republican legislators.
Democrats supported this police footage legislation in hearty numbers, suggesting a disconnect between party establishment and the more youthful protestors.
However, Brian Anderson reported for the News and Observer that “an amendment added by the Senate at the request of Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, allows the state Administrative Office of the Courts to prepare a petition, free of charge, for someone asking a court to order the release of the recording.” In the initial draft of the bill, any charges incurred would be at the expense of the petitioner-for-records, and the fees awarded to the law enforcement agency in question.
Gubernatorial candidate and N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper came out in opposition of the bill, suggesting his statewide campaign is more pro-active on these issues than the remnant Democratic stalwarts who remain in the legislature after years of Republican victories.