A Guilford County superior court judge has ordered the release of police body-worn camera video from 10 Greensboro police officers to the city’s police community review board for its review in a racial profiling complaint by a 29-year-old black man who was arrested while visiting downtown with his friends in September 2016.
The professional standards division of the Greensboro Police Department ruled in late 2017 that the officers acted lawfully in arresting Zared Jones and did not demonstrate racial bias. Jones then appealed the decision to the police community review board.
Today, Superior Court Judge Susan Bray ordered the release of four hours of body-worn camera video captured by the 10 officers in front of Cheesecakes by Alex, the Boiler Room and the Guilford County Jail to the police community review board with the stipulation that the footage remain under the control of the police chief or a designee. Members of the board, which has nine seats, will be required to sign a pledge of confidentiality and are not allowed to disclose or discuss the recordings with anyone else. Bray said members who violate the order could be held in contempt of court, potentially facing a $500 fine and up to 30 days of jail time.
Bray indicated that she reviewed the video last week when the court was shut down because of snow.
Amiel Rossabi, a private lawyer, represented the 10 officers, including Sgt. Steven Kory Flowers and Officer Samuel A. Alvarez, in Bray’s courtroom. Rossabi told Triad City Beat he was representing the individual officers for free, and not representing the Greensboro Police Officers Association. In a separate matter, Rossabi is representing Cone Denim Entertainment Center and its owners Rocco Scarfone and Jeff Furr, in a lawsuit against the city attempting to block construction of a city-owned parking deck.
In a previous hearing, Rossabi had urged Bray to prevent the police community review board from reviewing the video.
“I stated my position that I don’t think under the law there’s any basic reason to release the video,” Rossabi said. “There’s no compelling public interest at all. Generally people don’t like to be in the news. Police officers want to do a job, and don’t want to be subject to scorn, harassment and ridicule for doing their jobs.”
Jones was charged with misdemeanor second-degree trespassing and misdemeanor intoxicated and disruptive after being removed by staff from the Boiler Room. The Guilford County District Attorney’s office dropped the charges in May. The police department review concluded that, notwithstanding dismissal of the charges, officers had probable cause to arrest Jones.
Graham Holt, Jones’ lawyer, has said his client wants to hold the police department accountable for what he contends is unequal treatment.
“There were white people standing all around watching what was going, presumably wondering what the police were doing,” Holt said in a previous interview. “Zared’s friends were doing the exact same thing as these white people, but they got treated as second-class citizens that didn’t belong there and were arrested. This happened because of a culture of racism within the police department. The higher-ups, the chain of command, according to the letter we received from Capt. [Tess] Biffle, think this is acceptable police conduct. To arrest Zared for nothing. Zared broke no law.”
Bray issued separate orders for limited release of the video to Jones; to Clifton Donnell Ruffin, a friend of Jones’ with outstanding misdemeanor charges from the September 2016 encounter; and to members of Greensboro City Council.
The order to release the video to city council requires that the city attorney or a designee maintain control of the footage and limits viewing to council members, City Manager Jim Westmoreland and legal counsel.
The separate orders include identical language forbidding those who review the video from making photographs, screenshots or other duplications, or disclosing and discussing the contents of the video to others. Likewise, the parties could be held in contempt of court and face fines of up to $500 and jail time of up to 30 days if they violate the terms of the orders. But Bray suggested any of the parties could request modification of the restrictions if they “pose a substantial impediment… to discharging their duties.”