Could the George Floyd body cam footage really change the case?

For some time now we’ve been aware that there is more police body camera footage available from the arrest that ended in George Floyd’s death. Up until now, however, we’ve mostly only been privy to videos taken by civilians who observed the event along with some transcripts from the officers’ body camera recordings. So are we going to get to see the actual footage of what transpired in the moments leading up to the physical confrontation? And if we do, will that change the narrative substantially or alter the perception of the potential culpability of some or all of the officers involved?

As to the first question, the answer appears to be “yes.” But that’s only if you happen to be lucky enough to be in the vicinity of the court where the question is being considered. The judge in the case is allowing members of the public, as well as the press, to view the videos in private and “by appointment.” The press is not being allowed to copy the videos for general release. The logistics of who is being allowed into the courthouse may be partly driven by social distancing requirements, but the overall result is that only a handful of people will actually get to see the videos. The rest of us will have to rely on the testimony of those who manage to obtain an appointment to see them. (Associated Press)

Video from the body cameras of two officers charged in George Floyd’s death is being made available for public viewing by appointment on Wednesday, but a judge has so far declined to allow news organizations to publish the footage for wider distribution.

Footage from the body cameras of Thomas Lane and J. Kueng was filed with the court last week by Lane’s attorney, but only the written transcripts were made public. A coalition of news media organizations and attorneys for Lane and Kueng have said making the videos public would provide a more complete picture of what happened when Floyd was taken into custody.

Members of the news media and the public are viewing the video Wednesday by appointment at the courthouse. The media coalition, which includes The Associated Press, has said this arrangement is the equivalent of keeping the videos under seal, and the coalition is asking Judge Peter Cahill to allow the media to copy the videos and publish them.

The judge in the case seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of releasing the full videos to the media. This boils down to a battle between the need for transparency inasmuch as is possible and the dangers of trying high profile cases in the court of public opinion. Additional concerns may have arisen over the potential release of information known only to witnesses who may have yet to come forward.

That second factor is somewhat undercut by the freedom some members of the press are being given to not only view the videos but prepare transcripts. Pretty much everything is going to wind up on the table, aside from the raw impact of seeing the actions of both Mr. Floyd and the officers, hearing the tone of voice they used and similar impactful visual and audio clues. Any case information being kept close to the vest will pretty much be out in the open shortly.

As to the other question I posed above, from what we’ve heard of the body cam footage thus far, it’s possible that the case will be viewed in a new light for some, but doubtful that any subsequent revelations will get Derek Chauvin off the hook entirely. What it might do, however, is provide more context for the actions of the other two officers, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng. Their footage supposedly shows Floyd being alternately cooperative and then physically resisting arrest aggressively. Such actions might justify their participation in pinning him to the ground initially after refusing to get in the squad car.

Also, both of the junior officers seem to be taking their cues from Chauvin and acting in response to Floyd physically struggling to prevent them from doing their jobs. What’s missing, at least from what we’ve seen and heard thus far, is anything that would provide a reason for Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for as long as he did and brushing off questions from another officer about rolling him over to allow him to breath.

Personally, while I always dread the prospect of these sorts of high-profile cases being tried in the media, at this point I believe that ship has sailed. The judge might as well just put the video out now and let everyone judge for themselves. And if not, the court should provide a compelling reason to maintain this level of secrecy amid so much public scrutiny of the arrest.