The Fraternal Order of Police is vowing to fight a Charlotte TV news station’s request for the release of Mooresville K9 Officer Jordan Sheldon’s body-cam footage from the night he was shot and killed.
“It serves no purpose except to hurt Officer Sheldon’s family and his law-enforcement family,” said Rodney James, president of the FOP, Iredell County Lodge No. 10. “There’s absolutely no value in releasing it.”
WBTV Reporter Nick Ochsner filed a petition in Iredell County Superior Court for the release of the footage on Tuesday, May 7, three days after Sheldon was murdered during a routine traffic stop on N.C. 150. The gunman fled the scene, shooting and killing himself inside his apartment.
In an email to the Scoop this week, Ochsner said he filed the petition because he and a number of his viewers want to know more about what led to the shooting. “To date, we’ve gotten very little information about that,” he said. “As a journalist, it’s my job to ask questions and seek answers, even when they might be tough.”
Ochsner’s petition requests Sheldon’s body camera footage of the traffic stop and “any other video from officers who responded to the scene during or after the shooting.”
Requests for police body-cam videos have been on the rise recently – but usually when the footage involves police-officer shootings of citizens. In this case, the police officer is the victim.
James said he hasn’t taken issue with footage being released when citizens are victims of officer shootings. “But in this particular case, what’s not to trust about the police?” he asked. “The only thing anyone is going to gain by the release of this footage is TV ratings.”
Ochsner said having access to the videos “will also allow me to better explain to our audience about the dangers law enforcement officers face responding to every call and, in this case, the brave actions Ofc. Sheldon took that, unfortunately, cost him his life.”
Said James: “Our officer was murdered by being shot to death, and the suspect didn’t even have the guts to stand up and be held accountable for it. Why do we need a video of that?”
While James applauds the media for limiting the shooter’s appearance on TV, he questions the rationale behind a news station requesting to watch – and possibly release to the public – a cop being gunned-down on the side of the road. “What good can possibly come of that?” he asked. “This would be such a hardship on a family that has already been through so much.”
Ochsner said requesting the footage isn’t the same as WBTV deciding to air it – and a judge, he said, may ultimately decide not to release the body-cam videos. “What I’m asking for through this petition is for a judge to look at the video and determine what, if any, part of the video would be prudent to release,” he said. “I work at a TV station committed to responsibly and compassionately sharing information with our viewers. While I certainly feel it prudent to request the video, there is no guarantee that we play some or all of the video if it’s released.
“This is a process that the legislature intended when they implemented the law and one that allows a judge to use their discretion in determining what, if any, video from situations like these should be released,” he added.
James said he believes a judge will deny the release.
I have struggled with this story since receiving a copy of Ochsner’s filing even before Officer Jordan Sheldon’s funeral.
Do I write about this and risk upsetting the family, especially before a judge has even decided whether the footage might be released? Can I support press/public-access to body-cam footage in officer shootings of citizens while not supporting the release of this video? If so, how do I rectify that in my own heart and mind?
Let me be clear: I see absolutely no evidence-value in the footage being released. I was initially outraged that anyone would even ask for it. I don’t at all see the value in potentially exposing the public or a grieving family to the brutal, cold-blooded murder of a much-loved human being and cop just to get more of a story that has apparently already undergone an open-and-shut SBI investigation.
Perhaps, I reasoned, the request is being made due to a distrust of police. Some may say they don’t trust the police or its investigations. But I’d argue that just as many people – if not more – distrust the news media.
I understand the value of access to body-cam footage. The cameras are taxpayer-funded, which means the public – once investigations are over – should have reasonable access to what they capture. We’re all in agreement – even our FOP president – that videos of officers shooting citizens should be released once investigations are complete to satisfy the public’s need to know if an officer was in the wrong.
And perhaps I don’t have a justifiable reason for feeling so put-off that a journalist would ask for this particular footage. But I keep coming back to one simple thought: just because we can get the videos doesn’t always mean we should.
Those words were graciously provided to me by one of many friends – both press-minded and police-minded – that I reached out to this week to help me wrap my brain around what exactly was bothering me so badly about this request. Perhaps if the request included only footage leading up to the shooting – ending before shots were fired – I could understand it better.
Is the desire to watch a cop’s own footage of him being gunned down in the line of duty really about finding out what led to the shooting? If so, I can come up with several alternative ways to easily find out the answer to that, like this one: ask a cop. Employ some good, old-fashioned journalism skills. Cultivate trusting relationships with credible sources. Work with them so they know you and trust that you won’t break your neck to report the things they tell you but instead will use those things to form a story that is truthful and accurate and will be helpful and not harmful – to either an investigation or a grieving family.
There’s a way to be the media and human. Asking for a video of a cop being murdered just to satiate curiosity isn’t one of them.
At least not for me.
Not for you, either? The hearing on Ochsner’s petition is scheduled for Monday, May 20, at 10 a.m. in Courtroom 3 of the Iredell County Hall of Justice, 226 Stockton Street, Statesville.