Officer-involved shooting puts Danville police's old cameras in crosshairs

Officer-involved shooting puts Danville police's old cameras in crosshairs

DANVILLE — City officials may soon be discussing whether they can afford to upgrade police-car cameras and buy body cameras for officers following the failure of a dashboard camera to adequately record the fatal shooting of a Danville man by officers during a traffic stop in June.

"The cost will be the big factor," said Public Safety Director Larry Thomason, who is a proponent of adding body cameras and upgrading in-car recording devices. Thomason said the squad-car cameras are so old, it's difficult to find parts and get them repaired, but the police department completed a check of all them since this incident.

The camera in the squad car involved in the shooting of Danathe M. Gulliford, 34, about 2 a.m. June 12 was not working properly, according to law-enforcement officials, and the result was footage that's too dark to see what's actually happening.

On Monday night, acting Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. publicly released two short video segments from the car of Danville officers Jason Dunavan and Brandon Phillips, who pulled over Mr. Gulliford. His car matched the description of a vehicle from a 911 call reporting that a man had a gun and had just threatened and injured two people.

According to the Illinois State Police's investigation of the incident, Mr. Gulliford had a loaded, cocked firearm in his right pocket and repeatedly ignored the officers' commands and refused to show his right hand. Vermilion County State's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy determined the officers' use of force was justified.

Since Lacy rendered her decision Nov. 30, Mr. Gulliford's mother and Ed Butler, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, have asked city officials to release the video footage so they could view it. Butler took his request to the city council last week.

Williams said "in an effort to fulfill my commitment to honesty and transparency," he allowed Mr. Gulliford's mother and a group of community leaders to view the footage. Williams did not specify who was included in the group.

Williams added that although the video is of "very poor quality" and the actual shooting cannot be seen, "I feel that it is important that our citizens see what there is to 'see.'"

Both segments of video the mayor released are so dark that almost nothing can be seen, and there's no audio. Thomason said the squad-car cameras can record audio if activated.

The first segment was recorded when officers first spotted Mr. Gulliford's car, which he had parked in a driveway between two houses in the 600 block of Harmon Street, and pulled behind it.

The second segment picks up soon after, and the rear end of Mr. Gulliford's gray Grand Prix is all that can be distinguished as the confrontation unfolds. About a minute and 15 seconds into the second segment, five tiny flashes of light can be seen, which Williams said are reflections of the officers' gunfire in the left-hand mirror of Mr. Gulliford's car.

In her report, Lacy noted that the dash camera in the squad car was not in proper working condition and that it does not illuminate properly in the dark. Recording devices from two other squad cars that arrived on the scene were in working order, Lacy reported, but did not capture the shooting.

"I am an absolute proponent of body cameras," said Thomason, who has been researching various types of them and video-storage systems for at least two years but noted that cost has been prohibitive so far. He said the squad-car systems are so outdated — they represent the first and second generation of devices that are now in their fifth and sixth generations or more — that they must be updated along with buying body cameras.

"We are behind the curve ball," he said.

The city would have to buy 64 body cameras to outfit each of its police officers, at a cost of between $50,000 and $100,000, Thomason said. He said storing the video they record, which the law mandates must be done for a certain amount of time, would cost about $25,000 a year on top of that.

"I think these are valuable tools," said Thomason, adding that every angle possible that can be recorded is valuable to the community but also the officers if there's a false accusation against them. He cautioned that even with upgraded dashboard and body cameras, not every angle of a situation will end up on video, but what is caught in addition to audio can provide a wealth of information.

But, Thomason said, in times of tight budgets, it's difficult to find the money.

"We are actively seeking ways to find dollars, and have for some time, to offset the costs, and that's not an easy thing to find," he said, "Whatever we can acquire would be well worth its weight in gold for the officer and the community."