PHOENIX (AP) — The top prosecutor in Maricopa County wants lawmakers to require body-worn cameras for all Arizona police officers in the field.
County Attorney Allister Adel urged six lawmakers in letters on Wednesday to take action in the next legislative session after the prosecutor declined two days earlier to bring criminal charges against state Trooper George Cervantes in the May 25 shooting death of Dion Johnson, who is Black.
The trooper was not wearing a body camera because Arizona Department of Public Safety officers have not been equipped with them.
“Anytime that we have more evidence in a case is helpful,” Adel told The Arizona Republic, calling the lack of bodycams at some departments a “matter of public concern.”
The death of Johnson during a roadside struggle prompted protests against police violence in Phoenix. Johnson’s mother, Erma Johnson, has said the justice system failed her son.
Early this year, Gov. Doug Ducey called for equipping every state trooper with a camera. Ducey offered the idea as protection for officers and proposed dedicating $5 million to buy about 1,200 cameras and pay for staff to manage the hours of footage.
The Legislature dropped the idea as it hurried to pass a simpler budget amid the onset of the pandemic and the accompanying fiscal uncertainty.
Still, bipartisan interest in body cameras suggests a statewide mandate could gain traction in the future, and Ducey said Thursday it remains a top issue for him.
"The body cameras are something that was in the State of the State (address) on Jan. 13, 2020, it's something we had dollars for in the budget,” Ducey said in response to a question at a news briefing on the coronavirus Thursday. “It’s really nothing more than the legislative act to get that done, and it will be a top priority in next year’s agenda.”
The county attorney’s decision not to charge Cervantes has been controversial. With no body-camera video to fully detail what happened, questions remain about the fatal shooting.
Adel said eyewitnesses to the encounter described a struggle between the trooper and a man in a car along a freeway.
Adel said she couldn’t say if a body camera would have made a difference in the events surrounding Johnson’s death. The decision against filing charges was based on evidence and facts available at the time, she said.
Julie Gunnigle, a Democrat running against Adel in the Nov. 3 general election, has accused Adel, a Republican, of being motivated by politics.
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