Sacramento police officers muted their body cameras just moments after shooting and killing an unarmed black man last week, sparking a renewed debate over how the devices should be used to hold law enforcement accountable.
Stephon Clark was fatally shot on March 18, after police chased him into his grandmother's backyard. Police officers fired at him 20 times, and body cameras captured one officer shouting "gun," apparently mistaking a cell phone in Clark's hand for a firearm. While the officers walk away from Clark to the street, one can be heard saying "Hey, mute," before the audio on both body cameras goes silent.
Clark's family plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit and has criticized the decision to mute the cameras, saying it demonstrates an effort to cover up details of the incident. Others, like Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams, protest the lack of regulation around police body cameras in general. "Why was the audio turned off after the shooting? What was the protocol for turning off the audio?" Williams asked at a Monday press conference, calling for the Sacramento police department to revise its camera policies.
Sacramento law enforcement is investigating why the two officers muted the cameras, but said there were "various reasons" why it may have been appropriate, NBC News reports. The department's policy on body cameras does not offer any specific protocol on muting audio. Additionally, no federal laws exist regarding proper use of body cameras, and prior instances of muting have drawn scrutiny.
The California Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it would step in to oversee the investigation into Clark's death.