KANKAKEE — Understandably, at the Kankakee County law enforcement meeting on Wednesday hosted by the Kankakee branch of the NAACP at the sheriff’s complex, the recent shooting of the Bradley Police officers was at the front of everyone’s minds.
Theodis Pace, president of the local NAACP branch, read an opening statement about the tragic loss of the life of Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic and critically wounded Officer Tyler Bailey.
In part, Pace said, “These officers put the safety and lives of others above their own. Serving with courage and honor despite knowing the cost. We will never forget the sacrifice these officers made to protect the Village of Bradley. We cannot forget tragedy has struck our community, as we mourn the loss of Sgt. Rittmanic. Her life was taken in service to others. We want to continue to hold Sgt. Rittmanic and her critically wounded partner, Tyler Bailey, age 27, and their loved ones in our prayers.”
This eventually led to the discussion on the body cam video of the Bradley shooting, whether it should be released to be viewed by groups such as the Kankakee County Community Crisis Response Team or to the media.
“Is there policy in place regarding body cams, as far as who sees them when they see them?” asked Donna Sample, who is on the board of the KCCCRT. “What are they? Is there some protocol to this?”
State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said body cams can be viewed by the public if there is no case pending.
“When a case has been charged, you then run into the territory where you don’t want to compromise the investigation or prosecution, in this case, by releasing evidence to the public, or even potentially a small segment of the public that could contain potential jury,” Rowe said. “It could result in a change of venue, so we have to be really careful.”
Rowe noted that when an officer discharges a weapon in an incident, those body cam videos are more readily released to the public.
“Those videos are often released, and that is because when an officer, who is a government employee, discharges a weapon, the public has a public interest in knowing what happened there because it involved the public employee,” he said. “... When the roles are reversed, you have a completely different case you’re talking about.
“Now you have a civilian who shot and killed a police officer. So under a scenario like that ... that public interest exception that applies in the LaQuan McDonald case [in Chicago] and so many of those other cases that the attorney general issued opinions on, that the courts issued opinions on, when the [Chicago] Tribune sued for those videos, it’s a completely different scenario there because now the public interest exception does not exist, but the sanctity of the prosecution and the investigation still does.”
Rowe said that if he receives a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the Bradley Police shooting, he will not release it if the case is still pending.
“It is going to take a court order to force me to release that video,” he said. “You’re not going to compromise the prosecution of this case. I don’t know what the Village of Bradley or any other of those entities would do, but I would just caution people.”
Rowe said he understands how release of the body cam video would help clear up misinformation out there about what happened at the shooting. He said people making false statements might do it to stir up emotions and problems.
“That is exactly the type of information that this group needs to make the correct decisions,” Sample said to Rowe. “Thank you for that very descriptive explanation.”
More local police agencies have body cams. In addition to Bradley, Bourbonnais Police have body cams, and Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said all his deputies now wear body cams. City of Kankakee Police has body cams and is working to get them ready for use.
The importance of body cams can’t be understated.
“It provides the state’s attorney and other law enforcement agencies that visual and audio that just protects everybody across the board,” Pace said.