Video proves big eyewitness at the scene

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA) February 4, 2006 Saturday

Copyright 2006 MediaNews Group, Inc.  
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)

February 4, 2006 Saturday


BYLINE: Amy Frye, Staff Writer

You hear screeching tires, police sirens and shouting. What do you do? Duck and hide? Run in the opposite direction? Or grab a camera and hit ''record?"

From the taping of the Rodney King beating in 1991 to the recording of San Bernardino County sheriff's Deputy Ivory J. Webb's shooting of Elio Carrion in Chino last Sunday, average citizens are filming an increasing number of police incidents and other newsworthy events.

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For the average viewer exposed to repeated airings of police footage on the news, it may seem that a majority of crimes and police incidents are caught on tape, but experts say this type of video is actually rare.

''The problem is a lot of these incidents tend to unfold quickly, so by the time someone grabs a camera, they're over," said John Burton, a Pasadena plaintiff's attorney who has specialized in police-misconduct cases in Southern California since 1984.

In the Rodney King case, Burton said, two different people filmed the beating for two different reasons.

The more famous tape was made by a man who had just bought his camera and decided to test it out when he saw what he thought would be a routine police stop. The second tape was from someone who saw the beating taking place and then ran to get a camera.

Burton, who prosecuted a case in 2000 involving Webb, said that although it is rare to have video evidence of potential police misconduct, such evidence is the best kind for these cases and is becoming more prevalent as access to video technology increases.

Based on his personal experience --which he says is limited as his focus is on incidents of misconduct -- Burton said he has noticed tension building up in the Inland Empire between law enforcement and residents, and that may be another factor in these tapings.

''I think the police out there, or at least some departments, are trying to establish a certain kind of reputation," Burton said -- specifically, he added, a reputation for abusing people at the end of a pursuit. ''The people out there are aware of that and grabbing for video cameras," Burton said.

Such mistrust notwithstanding, UCLA's Asimow sees a positive side of citizens taping police activity. ''It's a good thing in that it is more likely that police misconduct can be prosecuted," he said.