Charles Chukwu confronted the Houston City Council this afternoon about a beating he claims he suffered at the hands of a correction officer while at the city jail as well as the fact the police will not release the video of the alleged beating so that Chukwu can see for himself what happened.
Chukwu claims that last March while in jail awaiting arraignment for a Class-C misdemeanor assault charge – a charge that was quickly dismissed in court – a jailor punched and kicked him in front of numerous other inmates and correction officers. He claims that officers took pictures of his injuries and that the episode was captured on the jail’s video camera.
Chukwu says he filed a complaint with the police’s Internal Affairs Division, which investigated his claim. He says IAD told him it interviewed at least one witness, looked at the photos of the alleged injuries and watched the video tape before deciding there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove Chukwu’s allegation.
Since then, Chukwu has asked to see the video for himself, but so far city investigators have refused. According to a letter from the Attorney General Office to Chukwu, open records law allows the city to withhold information that deals with the detection, investigation or prosecution of a crime in relation to an investigation that did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication.
Civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen, who is not officially representing Chukwu but appeared alongside Chukwu at the City Council meeting, told the council members that Chukwu is “trying to get the information so he can see what happened, and I believe he’s entitled to it. The people of Houston deserve transparency and openness … so we can see and the people can see if this happened.”
He says that Chukwu was unable to get the names of the witnesses in the jail with him during the alleged beating and did not take his own pictures of the alleged injuries because he assumed he would be allowed to view the photos taken by the correction officer.
After hearing Kallinen and Chukwu, council member Adrian Garcia said, “I think what [Kallinen] is asking for is fair.”
Mayor Bill White said that he will forward the matter to the city attorney to look into the statutes addressing the circumstances in which materials such as the video tape can be released.
Council members expressed both confusion and concern.
“Are the videos there to protect the person in custody or the officers?” asked councilwoman Sue Lovell. “Can they ever be released?”
Kallinen says that the tape should be released not only in the interest of transparency and justice, but also because the tape is continually rolling at the jail and was not part of the investigative report generated by IAD and therefore should not be exempt from public disclosure.
At the end of the discussion, councilwoman Melissa Noriega said she would follow up on what recourse people in Chukwu situation have and Lovell asked that the head of IAD call her to discuss the matter.
“I don’t want this to happen to other people,” said Chukwu. – Chris Vogel
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