Twice within a span of 12 days, a large number of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers arrived at the 5200 block of Sheriff Road NE in the Deanwood neighborhood and interacted with community members in ways that prompted complaints of disrespectful and potentially unconstitutional conduct. We have asked the police to release officers’ body-worn camera footage documenting what happened, but so far, MPD has refused to share its recordings with the public.
The first incident occurred on June 13, 2018. Plainclothes officers approached and questioned a group of young African-American men sitting peacefully near a barbershop; at least one of the men was searched. On June 25, community leaders organized a press conference to complain about the conduct. That night, a large group of officers—armed with pepper spray, tasers, and batons—returned to same area and confronted members of the community who were protesting their actions. The police deployed pepper spray and arrested several community members.
In July 2018, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking MPD to make public all recordings of the incidents, including videos taken by officers’ body-worn cameras. MPD refused, arguing that releasing the footage could jeopardize officers’ right to a fair trial or adjudication. However, no trial or adjudication was pending.
We appealed to the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, which in August 2018, ordered MPD to release the footage or provide a “reasonable explanation” for continuing to withhold it.
Later that month, MPD again refused to disclose its videos. It repeated the same argument it made previously even though, as before, no trial or adjudication was pending. Moreover, MPD failed to make any plausible arguments regarding how disclosure could interfere with a trial or adjudication, were one to occur.
We filed another appeal with the Mayor’s office in September 2018. Later that month, MPD again refused to disclose its videos. It repeated the same argument it made previously even though, as before, no trial or adjudication was pending. Moreover, MPD failed to make any plausible arguments regarding how disclosure could interfere with a trial or adjudication, were one to occur.
After months of negotiation, MPD agreed to release several videos depicting what occurred at Sheriff Road—but did so only after charging the ACLU-DC several thousand dollars for to pay for the costs of redacting the images of offices and bystanders. The Sheriff Road saga illustrates the difficulty in ensuring transparency and accountability for MPD misconduct.