High-profile attorney Ben Crump petitions the release of body-cam footage in the killing of a Black man by Wallace PD
This week, high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump visited Wallace, about forty miles north of Wilmington. He was there to file a motion requesting the release of police footage in the killing of an unarmed Black man by Wallace Police.
On Wednesday, a crowd of family members and advocates gathered at the Adoram Baptist Church in Wallace chanted, "Show us, show us, show us."
Wallace is located forty miles north of Wilmington, with a population of just a few thousand. People were gathered there to ask to see body cam footage showing the February shooting death of 34-year-old James Lanier — which reportedly occurred just moments after an officer arrived on-scene.
Wallace police say Lanier was mostly naked and harassing people at a convenience store — and that he attacked the responding officer almost immediately, striking him repeatedly and then reaching for the officer’s firearm. Police say the officer tased Lanier, to no effect, and eventually fatally shot him during an ensuing struggle. In May, the district attorney ruled the shooting as justified.
Family members and criminal justice advocates say Lanier, who did not have a weapon, struggled with mental health and was experiencing a crisis. His father, James Lanier, Sr., has seen the footage privately, and said the shooting was unwarranted.
“I watched the body cam footage — there was no justice in the man shooting my son," he said at Wednesday's press conference.
Ben Crump and his co-counsels, representing Lanier’s family, have filed a legal petition to make video of the incident public — because in North Carolina law enforcement video can only be released with a court order; police departments and sheriff’s offices cannot release footage on their own.
“It is sad that we have to file a lawsuit, a public records lawsuit, just to get a video released," Crump told the crowd. "You know, transparency leads to truth. Yes, because what we have is mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement. And the only way we bridge that mistrust is first we have transparency. Then we have accountability.”
Crump, known by some as Black America’s attorney general, has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
Like those cases, Lanier’s killing is racially charged. Attorney Dawn Blagrove, director of Emancipate NC, put it starkly at the church:
“James Lanier was killed in less than a minute — by a white man," she told the crowd.
But Wallace Police Chief James Crayton said the officer was Hispanic, not white.
“That was reported from that news conference today," Crayton told WHQR after the press conference. "And that is absolutely not true — race had nothing to do with this. Like I said it was not a white officer”
Blagrove later said if she was mistaken, it was because the department has not been transparent and hadn’t released the officer's name.
Crayton said he would have released the body cam video the night of the killing if state law allowed it — and has no concerns about it being released if Crump’s motion is successful.
“I want the world to see that our officer did everything that he could and that James Lanier’s death rests solely on James Lanier’s decisions. Unfortunately, the law doesn't allow for that," he said.
Ben Crump’s petition for the footage in this case comes a year after the attorney was part of a three-million-dollar settlement in the police killing of Andrew Brown, Jr. — a Black man in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
There’s no timeline yet on when the request to release the footage will be heard in Superior Court. When it is, a judge will consider a host of statutory questions, including whether there’s a "compelling public interest."