The gist: A legal path has been cleared for the family of Trayford Pellerin to see the body-worn camera footage documenting the 31-year-old’s fatal encounter with Lafayette police. After a lengthy parlay among lawyers representing Pellerin’s family, Lafayette Consolidated Government and the three media organizations on one hand and the officers involved in the shooting on the other, a temporary restraining order granted to the officers, which blocked release of the video and other evidence, was dismissed Tuesday.
The decision by the officers’ legal team to compromise by dropping the request for injunctive relief clears the way for Mayor-President Josh Guillory to follow through on a promise he made to Pellerin’s family. In a private meeting with the grieving family, Guillory committed to securing the viewing in part as a gesture of reconciliation. The meeting came two weeks after police responded to a disturbance with a knife call at a north Lafayette gas station and pursued Pellerin on foot for a half mile; police say they unsuccessfully tased him before shooting and killing him when he attempted to enter a different gas station. The family’s attorneys had fought unsuccessfully to get the footage released while state police investigate the shooting. The mayor-president’s promise essentially circumvented the public records exemption the officers and state police say shields the video from public view.
“It’s a huge victory for the Pellerins, constitutional law and public records,” said Chase Trichell, one of the Pellerin family’s Baton Rouge attorneys. “They’ve kept their word,” he said of Guillory and the administration.
Unnamed officers’ lawyers had aimed to block the viewing, saying they wanted to protect the integrity of the investigations. Attorneys Allyson Prejean, Brett Grayson and Jordan Precht took the mayor’s offer to court, arguing that the release of any evidence could affect the integrity of criminal and administrative investigations and set a bad precedent. They maintained that the body cam video is statutorily exempt from Louisiana’s Public Records Act because of the ongoing criminal investigation; they also say such a release would violate state law, which is specific about the rights of law enforcement officers while they are under investigation. “This is a temporary exemption; it is not forever,” Prejean said in court Tuesday.
In essence, they argued Guillory overstepped his authority. At Tuesday’s hearing, Prejean contended that the police chief, not Guillory, is the custodian of the videos (along with state police, which is conducting the criminal probe).
Interim Police Chief Scott Morgan has not publicly weighed in on the matter. But Steve Oats, an assistant city-parish attorney representing Guillory, told the court Tuesday the mayor-president had consulted with his appointed chief. Oats also said the mayor and the family had agreed to redact any information that would reveal the identity of the officers involved, noting the process for editing the videos was well underway.
Morgan did not respond to a Monday email asking whether he had authorized Guillory to make the overture to Pellerin’s family.
Dismissal of the temporary restraining order appears to shut out the press. After District Judge David Smith allowed them (and the Pellerin family) to intervene in the matter Tuesday, lawyers for KATC TV-3, The Advertiser and The Acadiana Advocate were successful in their effort to unseal the record of the court proceedings. The attorneys further argued for media access to the body cam footage, saying the public interest should outweigh any privacy rights of the officers. The shooting death has sparked multiple protests, most peaceful, with social justice advocates seeking answers about the actions of police in the moments leading up to the shooting. Multiple media outlets have requested the body cam and other evidence from state police, which has cited the ongoing investigation in routinely denying all requests.
The timeline is to come. Reached by phone after the hearing, Trichell said the Pellerin family’s legal team will reach out to Guillory today or tomorrow to set the viewing. “I don’t have an answer right now,” he said.