ST. LOUIS • The Board of Aldermen will hold hearings in the coming weeks to grill police and prosecutors over how videos from dashboard cameras are stored, handled and released to the public.
At the request of Board President Lewis Reed, the Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday to initiate the hearings.
It’s possible the hearings could feature some exchanges from two officials running for mayor — Reed and Police Chief Sam Dotson.
But Reed said the hearings will be about public safety, not politics.
Late Tuesday, Dotson said he’s willing to participate in the proceedings, before noting that the majority of police policies are public records and can be accessed without holding a formal hearing.
In calling for the hearings, Reed singled out the case of Jason Stockley, the former St. Louis police officer, charged this year with first-degree murder following a December 2011 pursuit, an ensuing crash and the fatal shooting of drug suspect Anthony Lamar Smith.
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s office charged Stockley in May — more than four years later — citing new evidence, which she has not revealed.
Stockley has said he fired in self-defense after Smith pointed a gun at him. Police said a revolver was discovered in Smith’s car. Officials found Stockley’s DNA, but not Smith’s, on the gun.
On Tuesday, Reed questioned why four years passed between the shooting and charges being brought against the officer.
“It’s important to take a look at the policies that exist with the use of dashboard cameras,” he said. “We want to know who handles the videos, how the videos get released and when the videos are released to prosecutors.”
Reed added that these hearings will not be a witch hunt, but rather will be used to “restore the public’s confidence” that issues of public safety are handled correctly. Some people, he added, believe there was a cover-up in the case.
Joyce, the circuit attorney, said she was “delighted” when she heard about the hearings. Cities that have serious discussions related to the handling of video evidence, privacy and the associated costs, generally have more successful police video programs, she said.
“I applaud President Reed for his foresight. The public has a desire to have information available immediately, but there are legitimate reasons not to do that,” she said. “I very much favor dashboard cameras and body cameras, but we need to talk about the policies and procedures.”
About the four-year delay, Joyce said the Stockley case was originally handled by federal prosecutors. “They didn’t do anything with it,” she said.
Joyce said her office charged Stockley six weeks after the St. Louis Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division asked her office to investigate.
Former Police Chief Dan Isom has pushed back on that point. He has said his office provided Joyce with all the evidence early on, and that nothing but her political will has changed.
Prior to Stockley being charged, activists had been claiming there was cover up and were pushing for charges to be filed.
When prompted by reporters, Reed offered some criticism of Dotson. Reed said he agreed with what Mayor Francis Slay said last week: The city cannot afford to have a police chief running the police department while simultaneously running for mayor.
Reed then called on the mayor to demote Dotson. Under state law, Slay cannot fire Dotson without cause.
Reed called the city’s murder rate over the last three years reason enough for a demotion.
Dotson acknowledged an increase in murders but said that overall crime has been at its lowest point under his tenure going back to the 1960s.
“Let’s have a conversation about the real issues. We are not immune to the influences from around the country,” he said in an interview late Tuesday. “Auto theft and burglary are significantly down. Crime doesn’t go down in a straight line.”
Dotson said he intends to carry out his duties as police chief during regular hours, while working on his campaign at nights and on weekends. He called Reed’s comments “talking points” from someone running for mayor.