5 years after Jamarion Robinson was shot 59 occasions, Georgia regulation enforcement companies will begin carrying bodycams

Five years after Jamarion Robinson was shot 59 times by law enforcement, the Justice Department said agents in Georgia will start wearing body cameras.

ATLANTA – The Justice Department is giving local law enforcement agencies money to buy body-worn cameras, but until recently the Department required these officers to turn off their cameras when working with them. Federal agencies like the US Marshals Service and the FBI didn’t even have body cameras in Georgia until this year.

The struggle to make this policy change has taken years.

More than a dozen Metro Atlanta police officers were in attendance on the day Jamarion Robinson was shot nearly 60 times in an apartment in East Point in 2016. The only video of what happened was from a neighbor’s cell phone.

That same year, 11Alive asked a federal judicial reform committee why federal agents didn’t use body cameras. According to a report by the DOJ, US marshals alone fired their gun more than 100 times in two years while they were serving arrest warrants or search warrants.

“They have data storage issues, chain of custody issues,” replied Congressman Hank Johnson, explaining that the process is not as simple as buying cameras and turning them on.

“But don’t you have to ask the questions and start the process so you can work through these issues?” 11Living investigative reporter Rebecca Lindstrom asked.

“I think the process has started,” said Johnson.

In October 2020, the DOJ announced that its agents could wear body cameras, but an examination published a few months later by the Justice Department’s own Inspector General found that U.S. marshals and FBI agents had still not embraced the technology.

In a recorded video announcing the release of the audit, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, “We discovered that the DOJ law enforcement agencies were not prepared to implement body-worn camera programs.”

The audit found that the DOJ only began to reconsider its policies when the Atlanta Police Department decided in 2019 to withdraw from federal Task Force missions on arrest warrant.

APD had body cameras so people requested to see the video. But there weren’t any. The FBI did not wear body cameras or allow any officer to use their agency’s own cameras while they were serving on their missions.

“Our responsibility to the community we serve requires that we be very transparent,” said APD chief Rodney Bryant. But he admits it was a tough decision. “The federal government clearly brings with it resources that most municipalities simply do not have.”

Resources like equipment, cross-border contacts and money. But APD was also a resource the federal government wanted, fearing that other agencies would follow Atlanta’s lead.

In 2016, 11Alive surveyed subway departments to find out how many are using body cameras. Lindstrom found that only half of those surveyed had assigned a body camera to every police officer on patrol. She did the same poll this year, and that number has risen to 91 percent.

Cherokee County is one of those agencies that don’t have body cameras. Sheriff Frank Reynolds said it was timing and money. For safety reasons, Reynolds initially focused on updating their aging fleet of cars.

“Some of these older cars have had tough lives,” he said, and guided Lindstrom through a few vehicles in their fleet. “Heavy braking and turning.”

However, he points out that their vehicles have cameras that can get different views of the front and back of the car, and each officer carries an audio pack. He said body cams are coming soon.

“Cherokee is the fastest growing county in the state of Georgia. We know we will have more calls and community contacts, ”said Reynolds.

He said if they have body cameras they will even use them on joint federal missions.

APD is now helping federal workers, but you won’t find them together in the field to fulfill a search warrant or arrest warrant.

The DOJ said that every agency from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has started implementing body cameras for certain law enforcement activities, and is working with local law enforcement agencies to make them wear their own cameras.

But there is still a catch. The DOJ insists that it has control over whether and when this video is made available to the public. APD says it is unwilling to give up that control.

“Our policies and procedures need to be very closely aligned,” said Chief Bryant.

Jamarion Robinson’s family lawyer Mario Williams believes this is the right decision.

“The bodycams are designed to help anyone on all sides of the table find out the truth,” said Williams.