November 7, 2017 11:18:14 AM
The city of Columbus will not be immediately releasing body camera footage that captured a police officer shooting and killing a local man outside a nightclub on Saturday morning.
City leaders, including Mayor Robert Smith, met Monday with District Attorney Scott Colom and a representative with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation - the agency handling the case. On Sunday, Smith and Police Chief Oscar Lewis said they would ask in that meeting if they could publicly release at least part of body camera footage related to officer Jared Booth shooting Raymond Davis, 24, outside the Premier Lounge on 22nd Street South.
The answer apparently was no.
"We're just not going to be able to do that right now unless some people change their minds," City Attorney Jeff Turnage told The Dispatch. "It falls under (exemptions) to the Freedom of Information Act entitled 'investigative reports.' ... Releasing it might reveal the identities of witnesses, it might affect (MBI's) ability to investigate and it could ultimately keep someone from getting a fair trial."
Smith and city council members viewed the body camera footage in executive session of a special-call meeting Sunday evening. Then the Columbus Police Department Citizen Overview Committee viewed the footage in its own executive session.
In a press conference following those two meetings, Smith announced Booth had activated his body camera when he was called to the scene of a large disturbance at the club, and that Davis had a gun in his hand when Booth shot him just after 1 a.m.
Davis was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. A woman sitting in a nearby car who was hit by a stray bullet in the incident was treated at the hospital and released, city officials said.
Colom, speaking with The Dispatch, said he felt the council acted appropriately by watching the video and allowing the overview committee to watch it, as well.
But he defended the decision to withhold the video from public view until after the investigation is over.
Once the investigation ends, the case file will go to Colom to present to a grand jury, which will determine whether to indict (formally charge) Booth.
"When dealing with these types of situations, MBI has to protect the integrity of the investigation and make sure there's not too much information released too soon," Colom said. "Because if too much is released too soon, it affects our ability to find an impartial grand jury - or later a (trial) jury (if necessary) - to make independent decisions."
Warren Strain, public affairs director for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety - which oversees MBI - told The Dispatch he wasn't aware of the city's press conference or its request to release the footage.
He agreed, though, the footage needs to remain a sealed part of the investigatory file for now.
"This investigation is being done in an impartial, thorough and methodical way," Strain said. "We don't want things to play out in the public domain until the appropriate time. We just ask for the public's patience while we work through it."
Strain said the investigation was in the "early stages" and would not comment to The Dispatch on any of its details.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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