On July 23, 2021, Judge William Wood ordered that District Attorney Ted Bell release the unaltered body camera footage involving the fatal shooting of Ethan Calton by Deputy Tyler Greene of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office.
Previously, Calton’s family had filed a complaint requesting the court to order that Bell allow them to view the body camera footage, as well as release the footage to the public.
On May 27, 2021, Judge Wood held a hearing on the petition and granted the family’s request, ordering that Bell privately disclose the footage to the family. Judge Wood also ordered that Bell release the video to the public in the event that he declined to pursue criminal charges against Deputy Greene.
The video was to be released with no alterations except for blurring the faces of Calton and the officers involved.
On June 17, 2021, Bell met with the family to permit them to view the body camera footage. During that meeting, he also informed the family that he would not indict Deputy Greene, nor would he present the evidence involved in the shooting to the grand jury for an independent determination as to the propriety of pursuing criminal charges. As a result, Bell released what was he claimed to be an unaltered version of the body camera footage memorializing the shooting on the same day.
In addition to the purportedly unaltered body camera footage, Bell released a public statement in which he claimed that Calton held a firearm in his hand, which “flew from his hand” as he fell to the ground immediately upon being shot in the back by Deputy Greene. In support of his public statement, Bell also released a still shot taken from the body camera footage showing Calton falling to the ground and what appears to be a firearm to the left of Calton.
After review of the footage, Calton’s wife filed a motion seeking production of the unaltered body camera footage and identified, among other issues, the following indications that the version of the footage released by Bell had been altered:
- The date and time stamp, which should remain fixed in the upper right-hand corner of the video, constantly moved, broke apart, and disappeared during the footage;
- The frame of view had significant portions of the top, bottom, right, and, particularly, the left side of the screen removed from the released footage;
- The video quality was poor, despite the body camera recording in high definition;
Portions of the video were blurred in excess of the facial blurring ordered by the court.
The most significant indication that the footage released by Bell had been altered, however, focused on one of the separate still shots that Bell released to support his public statement, which was taken from the original, unaltered footage. Specifically, the still shot included a significant portion of the field of view of the moments when Calton was fatally shot, which was entirely absent from the video Bell released to the public.
Critically, the field of view that was removed from the publicly released video appeared likely to reflect which of the two factual narratives promoted in this matter were true:
- That the gun “flew from [Calton’s] hand,” as Bell publicly stated; or
- That the gun was never in Calton’s hand, as all witnesses have stated.
On July 23, 2021, Judge Wood heard arguments on the motion. During the hearing, Judge Wood and counsel for all parties were called into the judge’s chambers to review and compare the unaltered video footage with the footage that was publicly released by Bell.
As the parties and judge emerged from chambers, Judge Wood agreed that the footage had been altered in the manner identified by Calton’s widow. Accordingly, Judge Wood ordered that it “was in the public interest” to order production of the unaltered body camera footage (with the exception of facial blurring).
Because Bell’s only response to why the footage had been altered was that the SBI’s facial blurring caused all of the issues identified by the motion at issue, Judge Wood ordered that the facial blurring be conducted by the manufacturer of the body camera, Axon Corporation, or, by utilizing the blurring tools provided and approved by Axon, and, thereafter, be released to the public.
The unaltered body camera footage is expected to be released in, approximately, two (2) weeks from the date of Judge Wood’s order. According to Calton’s widow, the unaltered footage she reviewed in chambers refutes Bell’s public statement that Calton had a firearm in his hand when he was fatally shot. Calton’s widow also stated that the unaltered footage demonstrates that the gun at issue did not “fly from [Calton’s] hand,” as claimed in Bell’s public statement.
Once the unaltered footage is released, RC Catalyst will provide additional information as to any new information revealed by the video.