Video of police shooting in Calif. case open to interpretation
By IAN GREGOR
LOS ANGELES- The image on the grainy home video is both sensational and disturbing: A sheriff's deputy shoots a man who appears to be unarmed and obeying his orders.
Videos, they say, often end up raising more questions than they answer.
"They're drenched with caveats," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
"One thing we've learned about videos is there are often missing pieces before and after," added O'Donnell, a former New York police officer and prosecutor. "The quality of the video is often problematic and the sound doesn't pick up relevant issues and can actually distort things."
In the Chino shooting, a deputy appears in a 40-second home video to order 21-year-old Elio Carrion to his feet, then shoots him as he tries to stand. Carrion, an Air Force security officer just back from Iraq, underwent surgery for wounds to his chest, ribs and leg and was in good condition.
Carrion was a passenger in a Corvette that a deputy began chasing because it was speeding through a residential neighborhood at 100 mph (161 kph), authorities said. The chase ended when the car crashed into a wall.
No weapons were found on Carrion or the driver, Luis Escobedo, who has not yet been charged, sheriff's officials said. They didn't release the deputy's name or any information about him.
The FBI was investigating possible civil rights violations in the shooting.
The impact of videos became clear in March 1991 after images of Los Angeles police officers beating motorist Rodney King were beamed into living rooms worldwide. Since then, videos have captured a number of incidents, some involving white police officers and black suspects.
The footage includes a police officer in Inglewood, California slamming the face of a handcuffed 16-year-old boy onto the hood of a police car in July 2002; the death in 2003 of a 350-pound man after Cincinnati, Ohio officers hit him repeatedly with nightsticks; and the beating by police of a retired teacher in the French Quarter of New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
Law enforcement agencies also recognize the potential importance of video. Departments throughout the country are installing cameras in police cruisers to protect officers against false allegations.
But images captured on tape are open to wide interpretation.
Los Angeles exploded in rioting in April 1992 after a Superior Court jury acquitted four police officers of criminal charges in connection with the King beating. The violence resulted in 55 deaths, nearly 2,400 injuries and about $1 billion (euro828.9 million) in damage. Two of the officers were later found guilty of federal civil rights charges.
In Cincinnati, a police watchdog agency found officers used excessive force against Nathaniel Jones in November 2003, but a prosecutor concluded they were lawfully defending themselves when Jones began swinging at them as they tried to handcuff him in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant.
Two juries deadlocked in the criminal trial of Inglewood police officer Jeremy Morse, who was accused of assaulting 16-year-old Donovan Jackson.
In New Orleans, two police officers were fired and another suspended following the beating of 64-year-old Robert Davis _ an incident photographed and videotaped by The Associated Press. The officers' attorney said the video didn't tell the whole story of the confrontation.
Morse's attorney argued the same thing, claiming his client slammed Jackson down after the boy grabbed the officer's testicles and refused to let go.
"That wasn't captured on this film angle," said attorney John Barnett, who defended Morse and one of the officers in the King beating.
"We have learned over the last 10 or 15 years that images captured on film show only a very small part of an event."
Similarly, San Bernardino County sheriff's officials caution that the video of the Chino shooting is grainy and the audio is at times unclear. They have asked the FBI to do a forensic analysis of the tape to determine what was said by whom and at what time, sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said.
"The average person is going to say, 'Oh my God, the cops screwed up again. They stepped over the line, they're guilty of misconduct,'" Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Los Angeles author and political analyst, said of the incident.
"But we would really need to know more than just this videotape," he said.
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