JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
As cell phones and other forms of video become increasingly more common in investigations, law enforcement and legal experts say it can play a crucial role in finding out what truly happened.
After an officer-involved shooting in Jefferson City left a Columbia man dead Sunday, a viewer sent ABC 17 News a video she captured on the scene.
The cellphone video captured by a witness shows James Reising, 59, running from a vehicle and toward what appears to be a police cruiser. Police said after the shooting that Reising ran at them with a knife.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is investigating the shooting, said in a news release that Reising ignored commands to drop the knife. He was pronounced dead at a Jefferson City hospital.
MSHP took over the investigation of the shooting since it did involve a Jefferson City Police Officer, and will investigate what happened that led up to the lethal use of force.
Captain John Hotz with MSHP said investigators seek out all evidence in cases like this to determine whether or not any laws were broken.
He said any video is extremely helpful and is sought out from security cameras and witnesses, but other factors have to be considered as well.
"While it's helping us figure out what happened in general it doesn't necessarily give you the perspective of what the individual officers were seeing at the time the force was used," Hotz said.
Once an investigation is complete, all of the reports and evidence will be turned over to a prosecutor to decide whether or not to charge any officer for the death.
Former Cole County Prosecutor Bill Tackett said prosecutors look at the evidence in a case and decide whether they will be able to prove a law was broken to 12 jurors.
In an incident like this, he said video evidence can make or break a case.
"The video is pretty conclusive normally," Tackett said. "Are they protecting the life of another, are they protecting their own life, is there a threat to the citizenry, so a video becomes important in that sort of justification."
While important, he said video sometimes lacks context and things people pick up on in person.
"The live testimony is really a place where you can size up if someone is lying or not by their demeanor or by how they are talking... you miss that with a video," Tackett said. "But it is the second-best evidence you have other than seeing it with your own eyes."
Columbia Defense Attorney Dan Viets also said video evidence can make a case on both sides of the issue.
"What people see has a greater impact on them than what they hear, or what someone says," Viets said. "Video evidence can be critical and determine the outcome."
In the case of an officer-involved shooting, if a prosecutor decides not to charge anyone, Viets said advocates for the victim are able to file a civil suit against the agency that used lethal force.
Viets said more video would add context to the investigation, like body camera footage for the officers on the scene.
"Video from the actual officers involved in the shooting would surely be of more value, more explicit, more accessible than the video we have seen so far," Viets said.
ABC17 News reached out to the Jefferson City Police Department for a comment and to ask if the officers were wearing body cameras, but have not received a response.