The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota and NAACP Minneapolis filed suit against the state of Minnesota Tuesday, demanding that public safety agencies release videotape related to the shooting death of Jamar Clark. Clark was shot and killed while he being arrested by Minneapolis Police back in November. Some eyewitnesses have said he was in handcuffs at the time of the shooting.
The two officers involved, Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, claimed through the police union and their legal team that Clark was not just resisting, but had pulled one of their guns from its holster.
Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and other advocates have consistently called for the release of surveillance tape from a nearby building, saying it would reveal if Clark was killed in self-defense or murdered in cold blood. Authorities have responded by arguing that making footage public could hamper the investigation.
The ACLU and NAACP lawsuit names the Department of Public Safety and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension specifically, and says those agencies are obligated to hand over the tapes under the state data practices law.
"The benefit to the public from release of the videos greatly outweighs any potential harm to the public, to the [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension], and to the individuals captured on the videos," reads the complaint.
The state law governing data protection for Minnesota government agencies says all information in government possession is presumed to be public. Only if there's a "federal law, state law, or a temporary classification of data" can this information be withheld.
The key phrase there is the last one: The video is part of an ongoing investigation, and government bodies often invoke that status to prevent — or at the very least delay — controversial or potentially embarrassing information from being released. Indeed, an earlier request direct from the ACLU saw the state deny access to the video, saying it was "part of the BCA's active criminal investigation."
Drew Evans, superintendent of the BCA, has confirmed that "parts of the incident were recorded on several cameras," though he contends there's no clear tape that shows the whole thing. Evans has also said putting the tapes out would hurt the "integrity" of the investigation, and "of the eventual prosecutorial review."
Despite this argument, the BCA did let Gov. Mark Dayton watch recordings from an ambulance from that night. (Clark had injured his girlfriend earlier that night, and was said to be interfering with paramedics prior to his arrest.) Dayton said the tape he saw was inconclusive; the lawsuit says his viewing the video ought to be enough to make it available to the public. Dayton is not a law enforcement officer, and his "right to view the Videos is no greater than the public's right to view the Videos."
The suit argues that trust has broken down between police and members of the public since the Clark incident, and that trust can only be restored by ending public curiosity about what really went down that night.
"Protests and unrest have continued since the shooting of Clark and the refusal of the BCA to release the Videos," says the complaint. "Concerned community members have stated that peaceful protests will continue until the Videos are released."