Obstructing Justice: Missing body cam video obtained after yearlong data practices fight
Police videos of a 65-year-old man in a walker being forcefully detained are finally being disclosed after more than three years.
The videos, which show a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy taking Michael Torrey-White to the ground and handcuffing him in February 2020, had remained out of public view despite court orders and multiple requests under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
Ramsey County’s failure to produce the video in court as part of a criminal case, as well as its delayed response to the state law on public information, is now raising fundamental questions about transparency and justice, according to several legal experts.
“I can’t think of a single good reason that this piece of evidence would’ve remained concealed for as long as it did,” said Jeff Storms, a civil rights attorney who is not involved in the case.
5 INVESTIGATES obtained copies of body camera and dash camera footage in March, but Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher would not agree to an interview to discuss it.
Torrey-White, who is Black, first contacted 5 INVESTIGATES in early 2022 while he was still waiting for his day in court to fight misdemeanor charges of obstructing the legal process and disorderly conduct.
Ramsey County Deputy Kyle Williams had mistaken Torrey-White, 65, for a suspect described in police reports as a Black male in his late 30’s.
Authorities were answering a call about a disturbance in Falcon Heights when Williams confronted Torrey-White, who uses a walker, in the parking lot of his apartment building.
In his written report, Williams said Torrey-White “refused to cooperate.”
But a judge dismissed the case “in the interest of justice” last July when the Sheriff’s Office didn’t show up to court and failed to produce the video.
“I was praying to see that video,” Torrey-White said in an interview after the hearing.
In a letter to the judge, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office later said the video wasn’t turned over to the court because of a miscommunication with the prosecutor.
“For this not to be immediately turned over in a criminal proceeding is highly egregious,” Storms said.
It would still take months for the video to be made public.
5 INVESTIGATES continued to request copies of the footage after the criminal case was dismissed and obtained signed authorization from Torrey-White for the body camera footage of his arrest.
Ramsey County released the videos in March only after an attorney for 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS questioned why the department was not complying with the state law that requires such public information to be released.
“KSTP-TV is losing faith that the sheriff’s office will ever comply,” the email stated.
At that point, the original request for the video, under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, was nearly a year old.
“The government’s responsibility to be transparent and open is very important for democracy, and it doesn’t work if you end up with 11 months of delay,” said retired Hennepin County Judge Kevin Burke.
As body camera video has become key evidence in many criminal cases, Burke says law enforcement should give the video to prosecutors as soon as they refer a case for potential charges.
The police report in Torrey-White’s case notes, “BWC and ICC footage available.”
Burke says that’s not good enough.
“Squad and body camera videos are only as effective in making the system fairer and more efficient if it gets transferred to the right parties quickly,” Burke said. “Saying, ‘I have it’ isn’t getting it to the prosecutor.”
Torrey-White filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office last fall with the assistance of attorneys with Communities United Against Police Brutality.
CUAPB President Michelle Gross says they received the body camera and squad camera footage around the same time as 5 INVESTIGATES this year.
The video will now also be a critical piece of evidence in Torrey-White’s civil lawsuit, which is still pending.
In one of the videos, Williams acknowledged to a supervisor that he didn’t have another reason to arrest Torrey-White.
In another video, one deputy asked, “So, it wasn’t the guy in the walker?”
The video also shows Torrey-White pulled his arm away when the deputy first made contact with him.
“He has his own story to tell, but the video really highlights the truth of what happened in that matter,” Gross said. “He had no obligation to have an interaction with the police, and yet that officer physically assaulted him and engaged in excessive force because Mr. Torrey-White did not want to speak to him.”
Gross notes that Torrey-White submitted his own public data request for the body camera video last year, but she says he never received it from the Sheriff’s Office.
“Waiting over a year for video is ridiculous,” Gross said. “There’s no excuse for that.”