Nearly four years after a Montgomery police dog bit and killed Joseph Lee Pettaway, despite national press and a long-running lawsuit, the public still hasn’t been allowed to see the body camera footage.
Attorneys for Pettaway’s family today once again asked Chief US District Judge Emily C. Marks to make the footage public because it is evidence in their lawsuit against the city and several police officers, including the K-9 handler. The video is currently filed under seal and barred from release by a protective order.
“The United States Courts are the people’s courts,” said Griffin Sikes, a civil rights attorney representing the family, at a hearing today in federal court in Montgomery. “There is nothing in the video that’s subject to any claim of privilege by any defendant in this case.”
Robert DeMoss III, an attorney for the city and several of the officers, said the video should not be public because of concerns about police privacy and the graphic nature of the footage. He said releasing the video could result in “the likelihood of injury to officers.”
Sikes said that just because the video is embarrassing to the police, that’s not reason to keep the public from seeing it.
“It’s the central piece of evidence in this case,” he said. “They don’t like it. It portrays this in a horrendous light.”
[Read our series Mauled: When police dogs are weapons]
AL.com is also seeking release of the video, pointing out the public’s interest in the footage in a written request to Judge Marks. Marks has not responded to the request. Pettaway’s family supports making the video public.
The judge did not issue a ruling in court today.
Pettaway, a 51-year-old Black man, bled to death after the city police dog bit him on July 8, 2018 inside a house on Cresta Circle in Montgomery.
Police said they got a call about a person inside the house early that morning and believed Pettaway was a burglary suspect.
The handler, Officer Nicholas Barber, entered with the dog, Niko, on a leash. The dog bit Pettaway in the thigh and tore his femoral artery. Pettaway bled to death on a sidewalk outside the home while waiting for an ambulance.
Police in an affidavit said they believed Pettaway was a “serious and imminent danger.” But family members say Pettaway was a handyman who had been helping fix up the house and sometimes slept there.
It took two years for the family’s lawyers to see the video of the deadly dog bite. After obtaining copies, the lawyers submitted a written timeline in court records, saying the bite lasted two minutes and that the handler struggled to get the dog to let go.
[Read more: Police dog attacks are an ugly secret in Alabama]
About five minutes after the bite ends, according to that timeline, another officer outside asks Barber, “Did ya’ get a bite?” Barber says, “Sure did, heh, heh (chuckling).” The officer asks: “Are you serious?” Barber replies. “F**k yeah.”
Soon after, police drag Pettaway out to the sidewalk and wait another 6 minutes for paramedics. Pettaway died at the hospital.
AL.com, in a request to the court, wrote: “In the nearly four years since Mr. Pettaway’s death, public tax dollars have funded the defense of the litigation resulting from that fatal encounter, yet the public footage has been kept from seeing the police officers acting on the public’s behal. The video footage will show the public what happened.”
A clerk in Judge Marks’ chambers confirmed today that they have received the request.