A police killing in New Hampshire has raised questions of privacy, justice and the right to know with regards to body cameras and the deaths of violent offenders.
New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) reported that a Merrimack County Superior Court judge faces the question this week of whether to release police video of the July 7 shooting death of a Canterbury man who police say lunged at them with a knife.
The family of the dead man — 42-year-old Hagen Esty-Lennon — says they do not want police to release the video because Esty-Lennon’s minor children should not be exposed to the sight of their father being shot six times in the head and torso by police before dying.
An attorney for the city of Haverhill said that the police’s actions were justified, that Esty-Lennon posed a threat to their lives, which the public will see should the video become public. The state attorney general cleared the two officers involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing. Now, media organizations and others are clamoring for the tape to be released.
“I think the privacy interests here should absolutely be carefully examined by the court and I think we should all be sympathetic to the potentially traumatic impact these videos could have on his children,” said Giles Bissonnette of the New Hampshire ACLU to NHPR.
“But on balance, the public interest in disclosure and the importance of government accountability here we think is just too great. And the videos should be released.”
Bissonnette said that this case is crucial for the American public’s right-to-know with regards to police behavior.
“It could potentially set precedent nationwide,” he explained. “This is the first open records case in the country that we’re aware of where a court’s been asked to decide whether body camera footage of a fatal police shooting should be disclosed under a state’s open records law over a family’s privacy objections. We’ll see what happens here and whether this case has precedent throughout the country.”
Increasingly, police forces around the country are using body cameras after a number of controversies involving the death of suspects. Haverhill was one of the first towns in the state of New Hampshire to mandate body cameras for all police.