Trust of constituents is a cornerstone of our nation’s form of government. Constituents must be able to trust publicly elected officials. One of the cornerstone’s of trust is transparency.
Over the past few weeks you may have read staff-generated stories regarding the News-Capital’s attempt to obtain body cam and dash cam video of the law enforcement-involved fatal shooting of Mark Anson Schoggins.
News-Capital staff did not attempt to obtain footage for ourselves. We, as community journalists, file Open Records Act requests as part of our responsibility to be watchdogs of government. We file freedom of information requests as part of our responsibility to help make government transparent to its constituents — you, the reader.
There may be no greater need for transparency in government than when government takes the life of one of its citizens.
Light must be shown upon government when it executes one of its citizens. The entire process of arrest, trial, conviction, sentence and appeals in a death-sentence case is played out in public. A government that can kill a citizen behind closed doors can soon carry out the same death sentences against any citizen it chooses.
Light must be shown upon government when a law enforcement officer uses deadly force. The transparency of the process after an officer-involved shooting is what separates us from dictatorships.
We filed the Open Records Act request so our readers — constituents of government — would be able to see the footage for themselves. We acted as a conduit in that regard.
Our readers can see for themselves what officers or state troopers saw that prompted use of deadly force. Our readers can see for themselves what District Attorney Chuck Sullivan saw before his determination that no law enforcement officer would be charged in Schoggins’ death.
The entire point of coverage of an officer-involved shooting is to shine light on the process. The point is to ensure the public has access to the same information as those who are responsible for seeking justice — regardless of which direction it falls.
The News-Capital chose to blur parts of the footage. The key point in the question of whether lethal force was necessary is what led up to the moment lethal force was used.
Footage of the aftermath of the shooting is not necessary for readers to determine for themselves whether the shooting was justified.
There is a doctrine in journalism to limit harm. The News-Capital felt the best way to limit harm was to blur the video after shots were fired.
It should be noted we are a big believer in law enforcement’s use of dash cams and body cams. We believe footage protects both citizens and law enforcement.
Law enforcement is protected from false accusations by suspects. Citizens are protected because visible evidence of an arrest, etc., is available.
The process of seeking these videos was not a fight against law enforcement, city or state government or DA Sullivan. It was an attempt to shine light on a process that investigated the use of deadly force.
We acted in your best interest.