DA’s Office to Investigate Possible Destruction of Body Camera Footage

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Recent media reports have indicated that questions are persisting regarding the use of body cameras by Teller County sheriff deputies, with a pending investigation by the District Attorney’s Office.

A mistrial recently occurred for a vehicle theft case, largely due to mixed testimony regarding the use of a body camera by Teller County Deputy Sanel Lilic, who was hired in early 2013. According to an article in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, the deputy stated that he was wearing a body camera as part of a “trial run,” but that footage was destroyed by an agency commander due to the use of profanities in the recording. The deputy initially testified that he wasn’t wearing a camera during cross-examination, according to media reports. But he then stated he had forgotten he was using a camera during the day of the encounter with the defendant, Cole Simmons, as part of a pilot program.

In a further twist to the case, Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, in media reports, has denied that the agency has any such pilot programs regarding body cameras, or that the department owns or uses these devices. “No deputy of mine has ever been authorized to wear a body camera,” said Ensminger, according to a report in The Gazette. “We don’t have a pilot program and never have.”

In any case, the mixed testimony may have led to a mistrial on Aug. 23. Simmons is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 29 for a new trial.

But the controversy is far from over. Fourth Judicial Judge Theresa Cisneros has requested that the DA’s office investigate reports of footage getting recorded and then destroyed, especially without any knowledge by the defense or the prosecutors.

The use of body cameras by agencies in the Pikes Peak region has sparked many questions due to a lack of clear guidelines for the use of these devices and the preservation of evidence. The forthcoming DA inquiry may further boost claims of body camera proponents, who want local law officers to use these cameras while they are conducting patrols and handling investigations. They say it would led to more transparency and solve many disputes regarding evidence.

Critics, though, cite many problems with these devices and the lack of clear guidelines.