In the first test of a new policy requiring the release of video in officer-involved shootings, Sacramento police Tuesday will ask the City Council for permission to withhold footage from a February gunfight between three officers and a parolee.
Interim police Chief Brian Louie said Monday his request pertains to a Feb. 10 incident in which officers ended up in a street shootout with Armani Sicilian Lee, 28, that left North Sacramento residents scrambling for cover and Lee in critical condition. No officers were shot in the encounter.
The City Council in November passed police policy changes meant to increase transparency and accountability. They included a provision that video in critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings be made public within 30 days of the event, as long as the release “does not hamper, impede or taint” an ongoing investigation. The department must ask City Council for a waiver and explain its reasons if it doesn’t want to release footage.
The Lee shootout is the first critical incident to occur since the resolution was passed.
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Louie said the department plans to eventually release the footage but wants a waiver because the incident is still under investigation. Louie said the department was “not ready yet” to let the public see the footage because “we still have work to do.”
The Sacramento County district attorney on March 7 also sent a letter to the department asking it not to release the video.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said in a statement that the request to withhold the video was part of the office’s “legal and ethical obligation” not to release information that could impact court proceedings or investigations in any case.
Louie declined to say how releasing the video could affect the investigation and did not have a timeline for completion of the investigation.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he had reviewed the police and DA’s requests but believes that such an open-ended deferral of the ordinance is not appropriate. Instead, Steinberg suggests granting a delay of 60 days, and he expects that compromise to be discussed at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
“It’s our policy now to release video, so that is what we are going to do,” Steinberg said. “What the DA is saying is that they need more time in a complicated situation. As long as we are complying with the clear intent of the policy … I think we can also work with our DA and make this work for everyone.”
“Whether there are overriding public policy reasons favoring the release of materials of this type in any given case may be the subject of legitimate debate,” Grippi said. “However, that is not the context in which we made the request.”
Councilman Larry Carr, one of the authors of the reforms, said that Louie would need to “present some compelling evidence” that the video release would impede the investigation before Carr would vote in favor of a waiver.
“It will not be rubber-stamped by me,” Carr said. “There has to be some proof. There can’t just be a statement that this will compromise the investigation; otherwise, the policy is pretty meaningless.”
Under a 60-day delay, the Lee video would become publicly available in May.
Sacramento police have released video in other critical incidents with ongoing investigations.
Police in September released video in the July officer-involved shooting of Joseph Mann after The Sacramento Bee posted video of his death obtained from a private citizen. The district attorney was still investigating the actions of Officers John Tennis and Randy Lozoya at the time. That video showed officers attempting to hit Mann with their cruiser prior to shooting him and helped spark the police policy changes. The DA in January found the officers acted lawfully in an investigation report released in January.
Police also released some video in the April officer-involved shooting of Dazion Flenaugh just prior to the release of the district attorney’s investigation.
The Sacramento Bee made a Public Records Act request for remaining video and audio still held by police in the Flenaugh shooting after police said that they had withheld footage. The city agreed to release audio and video in the incident beginning from the 911 call to the removal of Flenaugh from the scene.
The Bee made its request in November and has not received any additional video or audio. City officials have said that they are in the process of blurring faces of officers and bystanders in that footage and will release it when it has been edited, though no date has been given.
The incident with Lee began on the afternoon of Feb. 10 when Sacramento undercover officers spotted Lee, a suspect in a Feb. 4 shooting in North Sacramento, walk out of a house on Land Avenue, heading toward the 2900 block of Del Paso Boulevard, according to police. Lee fled when officers approached, and he fired shots at a marked K-9 unit.
The K-9’s handler ducked to avoid being hit, then fired back at Lee. Two Sacramento police officers and a sheriff’s deputy fired at Lee as he shot at the K-9 officer, according to a Police Department news release. Lee was hit multiple times and taken to a nearby hospital.
Lee has since been discharged and is currently being held with no bail at Sacramento County Main Jail, according to online jail records. Lee’s father, Robert Lee, said he believed his son may have been suicidal at the time.
Armani Lee has been charged with multiple felony counts including attempted murder for shooting at Sgts. Joshua Dobson and Randy Van Dusen and Detective Nicholas Tavelli with a Glock .40-caliber handgun, according to court filings. Lee has a prior felony conviction for robbery and a juvenile record, and could face life in prison as a three-strike offender if convicted on the latest charges.
Bee reporter Darrell Smith contributed to this report.