Reality Check: Few in Buncombe County ask to see police body camera footage

The Officer gets his arm around Marzelle's neck. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

It's been about a year since Asheville police officers started wearing body cameras. Since APD's cameras went on the streets, only three people have asked to review footage of themselves. The Buncombe County Sheriff's Office reports only one person in the last year has requested to review footage of their encounter.

APD officials said there is not enough data to show whether complaints are down because of the body cameras. But they said the department has the cameras to increase transparency.

And one Asheville man is happy a video of his arrest exists.

Marzelle's story

Life's all about perception. People can look from the mountains down on Asheville and see different things. Terry Marzelle sees the only place he wants to live.

"Yes, and guess what? I love Asheville so much," Marzelle exclaimed.

Recently, people saw video captured by a News 13 photojournalists as police arrested Marzelle. What a group of West Asheville business owners saw that day compelled them to get Marzelle out of jail.

"I did not understand how to take that. I did not know how to feel. I felt a feeling that I just did not understand. So, I just kept saying thank you," Marzelle said.

On June 22, Marzelle was biking down Haywood Road to go home. Police had blocked the bridge over the highway to investigate a suspicious object that had attached to the bridge.

"Hey boss man! Boss man! Hey! Boss," cameras recorded the officer yelling to Marzelle as he approached the bridge without slowing. The officer then ran to stop Marzelle, who receives social security disability for mental health and learning issues.

Marzelle said he didn't know what was going on.

"Why I didn't hear him, I don't know. But I did not hear him say don't cross the bridge or don't go down the ramp. For some reason, I only heard, barely heard, him say 'boss,' but I did not know that he was yelling to me," Marzelle said.

A second News 13 camera shows the officer take Marzelle down, get on top of him and put his arm around Marzelle's neck.

"He choked me so hard that my voice changed, and I'm sure his body camera recorded me, my voice changing, because I yelled at him until my voice changed. I said, 'Get your arm off around my neck,'" Marzelle recalled.

The first camera captured Marzelle yelling.

"Do you hear me? Get off my neck. Don't put your hand on my neck," Marzelle shouted while being arrested.

APD is conducting an administrative investigation into the arresting officer.

"We'll look at was the force appropriate or according to policy, but also do we have training needs? There are certain things I think about, like are we doing a good enough job in training officers on dealing with special populations," APD Chief Tammy Hooper said.

Body camera footage law

The only camera that shows what happened before News 13 photographers hit record is the officer's body camera. However, state law prevents police from releasing video to the public without a court order.

"If there was a case that had such a compelling interest, where someone was injured, or a shooting, or something like that, I feel like those are instances where it (state law) kind of hamstrings me by not being able to put those things out," said Hooper.

Hooper said Marzelle's arrest did not reach the level of a compelling public interest where she would want to release the body camera video to the public.

But people can request to see video of themselves. However, very few have asked.

"When compared to the overall number of body worn camera footage videos we have, that's an incredibly small number," APD Sgt. Sean Aardema said, referring to the three people who have asked.

One of the three withdrew a complaint after watching body camera video.

"At least in that case, the person saw exactly what happened, maybe from a different perspective from what they recalled, and, as a result, they realized they had made a mistake," said Aardema, who receives the requests to view footage.

Hooper hopes to get sergeants to be able to play video back for people in the field.

Marzelle thinks most people don't know they can ask to watch video of themselves. He didn't.

"Sir, I did not know that, but oh, I am so glad to know that. That right there is what I need," said Marzelle, who plans to file a use of force complaint and believes the body camera footage would confirm his story.

The DA has since dropped charges against Marzelle. The people who bailed him out of jail also raised money to get him a lawyer.

"I love everything about Asheville. I don't have anything against Asheville city police or Buncombe County sheriff's, but I do think I was mistreated by one of the Asheville city officers.

More cameras coming

APD just got its final shipment of cameras. By next week, all 180 officers should be wearing them.

The cameras arrived a year ahead of schedule because of grant funding. The new cameras shoot a wider angle and in high definition. The older cameras will be upgraded as part of the original contract.

Asheville City Council has committed to spend more than $1 million for body cameras through 2021.

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