In an attempt to calm the ongoing outrage surrounding the shooting of Harith Augustus, on Sunday the Chicago Police Department released a portion of footage captured by body-worn cameras of the deadly incident.
Instead of holding the CPD’s feet to the fire and asking more pointed questions, most of the media immediately accepted the one-sided narrative and declared that the police-issued video clip “appeared to corroborate that initial version of events.”
But questions remain.
Even in the abbreviated snippet made public by the Chicago police, there seem to be numerous contradictions between the official story and the bodycam footage. When The Root dissected the only available footage, more questions emerged.
This is perhaps the most pressing question that leaves all others unanswered.
ABC Chicago says the 17-second video is silent because “The body cam video that was released does not have audio as there is a 30-second delay when the officer turns the device on.” The Chigago Sun-Times reports that the footage is silent because “sound doesn’t turn on until 30 seconds after the recording button is activated.”
This is simply not true.
The Chicago Police Department uses cameras provided by Axon, specifically the Axon Body 2. The camera works in two modes: As long as the camera is powered on, it is in “buffer mode.” The camera still records video in buffer mode, but the video will not contain audio. The Axon manual explains it in detail:
When an officer hits record, the camera goes into “event mode.” In event mode, the camera will record both audio and video from “the moment you press double press the EVENT button.” The only part of the video that will be silent is the 30-second clip attached before the event button is pressed. There is no “delay.”
The Axon 2 offers an option to mute video, but it requires a system administrator to allow the privilege. Even then, the officer must intentionally mute the audio by pressing a button on the camera for three seconds.
Axon offers this option for states with “dual-party consent” situations—jurisdictions where both parties must agree before their conversations are recorded. In Illinois, police do not have to obtain dual-party consent in public spaces.
Considering these facts, it is almost impossible that the audio was inadvertently muted by the officer, which leaves only three options:
- The officer who shot Augustus muted the video on purpose.
- The audio was intentionally removed from the video before it made public.
- The video was actually recorded in buffer mode, meaning that the cop who shot Augustus pressed the event button after he shot Augustus or never pressed it at all.
All of this leads to the second question:
Every Chicago police officer is equipped with a body camera. According to internal CPD documents obtained by The Root, “The decision to electronically record a law-enforcement-related encounter is mandatory, not discretionary,” and must be activated in at the beginning of the following incidents:
- calls for service;
- investigatory stops;
- traffic stops;
- traffic control;
- foot and vehicle pursuits;
- use of force incidents;
- seizure of evidence;
- searches, including searches of people, items, vehicles, buildings, and places;
- statements made by individuals in the course of an investigation;
- requests for consent to search;
- emergency driving situations;
- emergency vehicle responses where fleeing suspects or vehicles may be captured on video leaving the crime scene;
- high-risk situations;
- any encounter with the public that becomes adversarial after the initial contact;
- arrestee transports;
- any other instance when enforcing the law.
The Harith Augustus incident seems to meet at least some of these qualifications. Furthermore, the Chicago Police Department directive specifically defines “activate” as going into event mode, explaining:
Activate: To double press the event button on the body-worn camera to switch the camera from buffering mode to event mode to begin permanently recording audio and digital media.
But let’s say the officer who shot Augustus was not recording in event mode. Maybe he forgot.
Per CPD policy, the cop who was initially questioning Augustus should have been recording in event mode. The two cops who approached Augustus from behind should have been recording in event mode. They should all have audio and video from the event.
Either every other officer on the scene was in violation of the Department’s policy, or the Chicago Police Department is intentionally withholding the evidence and only provided the one video with no audio.
So where is the additional footage?
The Root was contacted by a source inside the Chicago Police Department who alleges that one of the officers on the scene has received multiple complaints from civilians. We reached out to the Chicago Police Department and have not received a comment.
Although every outlet is reporting that Augustus didn’t have a concealed carry permit, the CPD only stated that they have checked “every database” and could not verify that he had obtained a concealed carry permit. But authorities have verified that Augustus was a licensed gun owner.
The video shows him having a calm conversation with the policeman before he was approached by two other law enforcement officers. Even if the additional video from the other cops on the scene is unclear, police may have standalone audio from another body camera that shows whether or not Augustus told police he was armed.
The publicly available video shows Harith pulling a small rectangular item from his wallet which appears to be a license or identification card. Many have speculated that Augustus was attempting to show the police officer a Firearms Owners Identification Card (FOID).
When The Root enhanced the video, the card in Augustus’ wallet seems to match an Illinois FOID. If this is true, it would seem to show that Augustus was complying with the officers on the scene before he was confronted.
Take a look at the slowed-down video and watch as he holds his wallet:
If only there was audio ...
Augustus doesn’t seem belligerent or confrontational until he is approached by additional police officers. Even when police attempt to restrain him—despite Chicago Police Chief Fred Waller’s assertion that: “When they approached him, he tried to push their hands away”—Augustus only retreats.
At no point does Augustus make an aggressive move towards the initial officer or anyone on the scene. So why is there a need for restraint? And why does he appear composed up until that moment? Do they tell him he’s under arrest?
To be fair, it is entirely possible that Augustus’s disposition can’t be determined by the video alone. Maybe audio would help.
Even though Augustus doesn’t point the gun, it is clear that he reached for his weapon. But the video shows that the gun doesn’t appear to be loaded. His ammunition was still on his holster and he wasn’t trying to load the firearm. Was he trying to draw his weapon or was he trying to unholster the gun in an attempt to disarm himself?
Perhaps that is why the audio wasn’t included. Maybe the cops fired on Augustus as he was backing away. While that hypothesis might seem one-sided and irresponsible, it is not quite as irresponsible as releasing a video with no sound.
Unless you were hiding when the first shot was fired.
Police say they approached Augustus because he was “exhibiting characteristics” of an armed person. Is it the CPD policy to question every person who they think is armed?
Why is it that the NRA never issues a statement when a black person is killed by police officers? It probably doesn’t have anything to do with the organization’s conservative, pro-police leanings. After all, they called the death of Philando Castile a “terrible tragedy”... 370 days after Castile was shot and killed by Jeronimo Yanez.
- Did they erase the audio from the video?
- Why haven’t they released the full video?
- Why are they keeping the officer’s name a secret?
- Is there audio or video footage from the other officers who were at the scene?
In an attempt to answer these questions, The Root has contacted the Chicago Police Department as well as the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the union that represents Chicago police officers.
So far, we have not obtained any audio.