LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has shot fifteen people since implementing deputy-worn body cameras in October of last year.
A $25.5 million dollar deal was made last year with Axon Enterprise in order to secure 5,200 body worn cameras for deputies across the department. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors set aside a total of $35 million dollars total in order to equip the department with body cameras.
The shipment of cameras began arriving in September, and use among deputies started to become standard in October 2020 at various stations in the county. The official Twitter of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department stated that these cameras would help strengthen "bonds of trust and bring increased transparency."
But ten months later, the public has not seen this transparency when it comes to one of the most controversial actions of law enforcement: "deputy involved shootings" (which is when a deputy shoots a citizen, fatally or not).
In the latest department shooting, deputies involved just happened to be among the last 30 out of 165 deputies at the responding station that did NOT have body cameras yet. This shooting was also lacking in public statements, victim information, and updated incident reports. The family of the victim was not notified for an entire week.
It is clear body cameras are not helping the department with its consistent transparency problem. Even for the shootings the public has receive body camera footage for, there are significant issues.
The Shooting of Fred Williams III
Information on the shooting of Fred Williams III was something the department obfuscasted and delayed for a long time, even leading to a the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner separate inquest into the shooting. Upon finally releasing the footage two weeks after the shooting: there were serious contradictions from the police narrative seen in the video, and these contradictions were not ever addressed. The deputy who shot Williams can be heard, several times, claiming that Williams pointed a gun at him. But at no point in the video do we see this occur. We only see Fred Williams scaling a fence, with his back turned, as the deputy fatally shoots Williams (video below, viewer discretion advised). This is an example of body camera footage contradicting the deputy narrative... and yet this contradiction did not lead to any response or disciplinary actions.
The Shooting of Isaias Cervantes
The release of body camera footage for the non-fatal shooting of Isaias Cervantes is also troubling. Isaias Cervantes is an autistic and hearing impaired person who was shot by deputies during a house call. Deputies allege that Cervantes tried to take their gun, so they felt unsafe and fired. The shooting has left Cervantes physically disabled. The problem is that the moment Cervantes was shot is not seen in the video. At no point does the video show Cervantes doing what deputies allege instigated the shooting. The body cameras of both deputies allegedly "fall off" right at the vital moment, according to Cervantes' attorneys.
The video could not support the allegations made about Isaias Cervantes supposedly trying to grab a gun.
"The sheriff's department cannot support its own allegation, and that's what it is, an allegation— which is not supported by fact, or any other witnesses. It's not supported by their own video!" - Attorney Christian Contreras
How are body cameras changing transparency in this department? We have footage that contradicts deputy narratives, body cameras falling off during crucial moments, and body cameras that simply aren't being worn during incidents. But even so, no deputies are held accountable. This hasn't impacted transparency at all, it's only helped the department create their own framing and narratives for other incidents.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Manual of Policy and Procedures: 3-06/200.65: "Unit commanders are responsible for ensuring compliance with body worn camera (BWC) training, policies, and procedures." And yet, even though it's clear to the public that there are multiple incidents involving lack of compliance with body worn camera training, policy, and procedure: there is still no disciplinary actions for deputies involved in these situations.