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ECU, city should grant access to assault video

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A student walks toward a video camera at the West End Dining Hall on the campus of East Carolina University on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

The authorities who have possession of video documents of an assault on a black man by a group of white people in March 2016 can and should allow the public to access them.

The Daily Reflector, other news agencies and community groups have asked to view available video of the incident. Multiple requests have been issued been since the assault on Patrick Myrick occurred on St. Patrick’s Day.

An East Carolina University Police Department officer was fired because he handcuffed Myrick after responding to the scene where six people had been hitting and kicking him, officials said at the time. A camera at the West End Dining Hall captured that part of the incident, and a camera at a private business recorded potions of the assault on Cotanche Street, where it began outside Club 519.

Myrick, accused of starting the incident by hitting a woman outside the club earlier that night, suffered a broken nose, a concussion, had bruises all over his body and swollen eyes, and was at the hospital for 12 hours, according to the police investigation. He later had to see specialists for treatment of his wounds.

Officials denied requests to provide the video files previously because the case had not been prosecuted and the documents were part of an ongoing investigation. Last month, however, the six people accused in the incident pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of assault inflicting serious injury.

The Pitt County District Attorney’s office, which had earlier prevented public access to the files, said after the case had been resolved that requests to obtain the video could be made directly to the city and East Carolina University. So far those requests have been denied.

ECU officials said General Statute 132-1.4A prohibited the release of video recorded there. The law was enacted by leaders in state government on Oct. 1, 2016, to bar members of the public from accessing many video records unless they are able to obtain a court order. It’s a bad law that needs to be repealed, but it is irrelevant in this case.

The law does not apply to video from ECU because that was recorded and requests to view it were made prior to Oct. 1, 2016. It does not apply to video collected by the city because that was recorded on a private camera, the city said. Neither the city nor ECU, therefore, is prohibited from allowing people to view the documents.

Unfortunately, no law clearly defines such video documents as public records, which would compel officials to release them, according to Amanda Martin, general counsel to the North Carolina Press Association.

But nothing says they can’t release the videos, either. In fact, authorities routinely release video whenever they decide it serves them. Every week we see images from crimes captured by public and private cameras in hopes that someone might help police identify suspects.

So, it appears that the authorities in this case have a simple choice: Be transparent and allow the public to see what happened on its streets and campus, or deny them that right and keep them out of the light.

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