B.W. v. City of New Orleans et. al. is the case brought by the parents of B.W., a minor who was killed during an interaction with New Orleans police officers who failed to activate their body-worn cameras (BWCs) at the time of the fatal incident.
NPAP’s brief argues that such failure to activate BWCs, in defiance of departmental policy mandating activation, warrants spoliation sanctions. Under the rules of civil procedure, “spoliation” refers to the destruction, alternation, or loss of information or evidence potentially relevant to a litigation or investigation. NPAP argues that this failure to activate BWCs represents an intent to deprive cilivilan plaintiffs of the BWC footage, and as such merits court sanction.
Moreover, we argue that there are meaningful policy considerations that support granting spoliation sanctions against officers who fail to activate their BWCs:
First, sanctions are necessary to advance the Court’s commitment to truth in testimony and accuracy in judgment. BWCs provide civilians, police officers, and the courts with objective records of events in dispute. Several cases demonstrate that without video recordings, courts can be misled about the nature of police-civilian encounters. Second, sanctions will ensure that the costs to the public of BWCs do not outweigh their benefits. BWCs come at a substantial monetary cost to taxpayers, and the BWC’s capacity for constant surveillance can take a toll on civil liberties. The public benefit of the BWC—the camera’s function to document police officer conduct—is completely lost when police officers are effectively granted sole discretion over when to activate their BWCs. Finally, internal department discipline is not effective at ensuring compliance with department BWC policy because officers are unlikely to face meaningful consequences for violations of department policy. Five of the six NOPD officers involved in this very case had a history of BWC violations that went undetected and unpunished.
An external check from the Court, in the form of the threat of spoliation sanctions, is necessary.