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Release of Body Camera Video of Arizona Officer Being Shot Raises Privacy Issues

January 16, 2015  | 

The shooting of Officer Tyler Jacob Stewart was captured on his body camera and released by the Flagstaff PD, as required by law.
The shooting of Officer Tyler Jacob Stewart was captured on his body camera and released by the Flagstaff PD, as required by law.

The video footage is raw, showing Flagstaff, Ariz., police Officer Tyler Stewart chatting with a man accused of breaking a couple things in his girlfriend's apartment a day earlier. That's what body cameras do: capture the daily work of police officers up close.

"Do you mind if I just pat down your pockets real quick? You don't have anything in here?" Stewart, 24, can be heard asking the suspect, Robert Smith, 28, who had his hands jammed in his pockets. They had been talking in the cold for a few minutes outside Smith's home Dec. 27.

"No, no — my smokes," replies Smith, who had been chuckling moments earlier. Smith then draws a revolver so fast that the gun is almost a blur. The video stops. Stewart is shot five times before Smith fatally shoots himself.

The Arizona footage raises questions about the balance between the public's right to know and privacy concerns for officers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Flagstaff Police Department redacted the footage to end before the shots were fired. Portions were broadcast on several television stations Tuesday, and one station uploaded the full footage to YouTube.

"We have to abide by the Arizona state law when it comes to releasing public records information," said Flagstaff Deputy Chief Walter Miller, who said officials sought legal advice before determining that they had to release the video under Arizona law.

"However, we also believe there are some privacy concerns and some basic respect concerns," Miller said. "This video is depicting a young officer's last moments on this earth, and he was tragically killed. I would like to see, personally, some legislative reform that allows us not to release certain videotaped reports to the media.... I would rather that the public didn't see that out of sheer respect for the officer and his family and the grieving officers here at the Flagstaff Police Department."

Miller said police notified Stewart's family before the video was released and gave Flagstaff officers a chance to watch the video and ask supervisors questions before they saw it on the local news.


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

kevCopAz @ 1/17/2015 7:48 AM

I disagree with Chief Miller. Yes its sad, but it is public record and the truth should be known. This will also serve to show the public what an officer is up against and how fast our lives can be taken and how fast we LEOs have to be able to react, something the average citizen has no clue about!. The fact that the Family and the Flag officers were advised up front and had a chance to see the video AND the video was cut off as the death of the officer took place, was a good move. The end result is that this young officer is able to help his fellow LEOs and inform the citizens of the dangerous nature of police work in this video. I feel that if broadcast with respect, then our fallen bother had another chance to do his duty to help by the video being used an example to others. I as a LEO would not have any problem with this if it were myself or someone that I loved. God rest the officer's soul and to hell with the criminal.

Jim B. @ 1/17/2015 8:03 AM

The video is disturbing, no doubt about it. But I think it is overall beneficial to us as cops for it to be shown to the public. It gives the average citizen some idea of the kind of dangers cops face and how quickly things can happen on the street. It shows this apparently "nice" guy go from chatting and chuckling one second to a murdering POS the next. To the people who say "the officer should have been able to defuse the situation" or "he should have backed off and waited for help" after an officer involved shooting or use of force, it shows that we don't always have the luxury of time or advanced notice.

It's heartbreaking to watch and it's a good reminder to us but I think it is also educational for the general public.

Richard Koleff @ 1/17/2015 9:00 AM

What did you expect from the Media Vultures? Their mantra is, "If it bleeds, it leads!" They all have their high end lawyers standing by, all else be damned!

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