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Ben Crump asks N.C. court to release bodycam footage of Black man killed by police

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

A prominent civil rights attorney is asking a court in North Carolina to release police body camera footage in the death of a Black man shot by officers. From member station WHQR, Ben Schachtman reports.

BEN SCHACHTMAN, BYLINE: Ben Crump, who some call Black America's attorney general, has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. This week he came to Wallace, N.C., where in February, a police officer shot 34-year-old James Lanier. Wallace police say Lanier was naked and harassing people at a convenience store and that he attacked the responding officer and then reached for the officer's firearm. Police say the officer tasered Lanier to no effect and then shot him during an ensuing struggle. In May, the district attorney ruled the shooting was justified.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEN CRUMP: It's sad that we have to file lawsuits, public record lawsuits, just to get a video released.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It is.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It is.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It is. It is.

SCHACHTMAN: Crump held a press conference at Adoram Baptist Church in Wallace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUMP: You know, transparency leads to truth.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yes.

CRUMP: Because what we have is mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement. And the only way we bridge that mistrust is first we have to have transparency. Then we have to have accountability.

SCHACHTMAN: Wallace police chief James Crayton says he would have released the bodycam video the night of the killing, but state law requires a court order to make such footage public. He added that the officer, who has not been identified, is Hispanic and not white as advocates have claimed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES CRAYTON: I want the world to see that our officer did everything that he could and that this - James Lanier's death rests solely on James Lanier's decisions. Unfortunately, the law doesn't allow for that.

SCHACHTMAN: Family members and criminal justice advocates say Lanier, who did not have a weapon, struggled with mental illness and was experiencing a crisis. His father, James Lanier Sr., has seen the footage privately and said the shooting was unwarranted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES LANIER SR: I watched the bodycam and there was no justice in the man shooting my son.

SCHACHTMAN: Ben Crump's petition for the footage in this case comes a year after the attorney was part of a $3 million settlement in the police killing of Andre Brown Jr. (ph), a Black man in Elizabeth City, N.C. It's not yet known when Crumb's petition will be heard by a superior court judge.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Schachtman in Wilmington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Benjamin Schachtman
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