It’s time to release the February 2014 dashcam footage of the North Augusta officer-involved shooting that killed an unarmed man rather than suppress the video’s availability, that for any other reason, would have been made public months ago.
For almost two years, the city of North Augusta and the state’s top law enforcement division have sat on a video reportedly showing former North Augusta Department of Public Safety officer Justin Craven’s fatal shooting of 68-year-old Edgefield County resident Ernest Satterwhite Sr.
Multiple requests for information, including the video, have been filed, a lawsuit filed by the Aiken Standard and The Associated Press, and a separate, but related, motion filed by the newspaper and television station WRDW News-12, have also been filed in court – none of which have even made it to a judge’s hands for review.
In every article the Aiken Standard publishes detailing the evening of Feb. 9, 2014, when Craven followed Satterwhite on a 13-mile, or 15-minute, chase that started in North Augusta and ended in Edgefield County on Satterwhite’s dirt driveway, the newspaper states that Craven’s attorney Jack Swerling maintains his client’s innocence, claiming Craven “feared for his life” and that Satterwhite reached for Craven’s weapon.
The newspaper does the same for Edgefield County Solicitor Donnie Myers, who asserts Craven acted outside of the law when he shot Satterwhite, as Satterwhite sat in his vehicle, unarmed.
But the truth is, the Aiken Standard cannot confirm either story. The truth is, without the video, the Aiken Standard, along with other media outlets who have fought for the right to see the footage, will never know what happened that night until Craven goes before a trial by jury in January, or maybe even months later.
Recently, a Chicago judge ordered Chicago officials to release dashcam footage of one of its own officers – James Van Dyke – fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014.
Chicago officials sat on the video for exactly one year, knowing the video would be “chilling” and would cause great reaction from Chicago residents and the Black Lives Matter group.
Officials knew that once the public saw Van Dyke shoot McDonald 16 times, even as he lay dead on the concrete of Chicago’s southwest side, the video was bad. They knew there could be protests, they likely knew the video could alter the re-election of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, they knew they were pushing aside and barring freelance journalist Brandon Smith from press conferences, who filed repeated FOIA requests to seek the video.
Regarding North Augusta, a cover-up as massive as Chicago’s is likely not the case – North Augusta and SLED officials are not postponing criminal charges like in the Chicago case.
But there are lessons to be learned from Chicago and other state and nationwide officer-involved shooting incidents where dashcam footage was released – Walter Scott in North Charleston in April, Zachary Hammond in Seneca in July, Levar Jones at a gas station outside of Columbia in September 2014 and even the shooting death of the wife of former Aiken County deputy-in-training Matthew Blakley in June – barring the public from a public record, which has been released in other similar cases – is an injustice and a disservice to the trust between law enforcement, the public and the media.
At this point, the only thing we can ask is, what are you hiding?