The Greensboro City Council lost its appeal of a gag order imposed by Superior Court Judge Susan Bray concerning the contents of police body worn camera videos that the City Council had requested permission to view.
Bray ruled that the City Council could view the police body worn camera videos of an incident on Sept. 10, 2016, but members of the City Council could not talk about the contents of the video except among themselves.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals in a unanimous decision ruled that the court order prohibiting members of the City Council from publicly discussing the contents of the police body worn camera videos was legal and constitutional.
Attorneys representing the city had argued that the First Amendment rights of the members of the City Council were being restricted by Bray’s order that the contents of the body worn camera videos could not be discussed publicly and it inhibited their fundamental responsibilities to their constituents.
On the matter of First Amendment rights, the court ruled that since the councilmembers had no legal right to the information, absent permission from the court, the court was well within its right to place restrictions on how this privileged information was disseminated.
Court of Appeals Judge Phil Berger, Jr. concurred with the majority opinion but, in a separate opinion, stated that because the First Amendment issue was not raised at trial it should not be considered for the first time on appeal and should be dismissed.
The decision written by Court of Appeals Judge Chris Dillon, with Judge Valerie Zachary and Berger concurring, states that there are eight standards in the statute that must be considered and all eight of the standards set by the statute were applicable.
The opinion notes that if a video is released, the statute states the court “may place any conditions or restrictions on the release of the recording that the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate.”
The opinion states, “Here, the trial court, in its discretion, deemed it appropriate to place a ‘condition or restriction’ on the release of the body-cam footage to the City officials.”
And states, “We conclude that, though the restriction does limit the City council members’ speech, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in initially placing and later refusing to modify a restriction on release of body-cam footage, as the City officials otherwise had no right to the information.”