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Boone County prosecutor describes role of cameras in investigations as witnesses feel reluctant to speak with officials


In 2012, the Columbia City Council approved a plan to replace two old surveillance cameras in Douglass Park. 

City staff held multiple community meetings to find ways to deter rising crime numbers at Cosmo Park. Between 2009-11, 39 arrests were made at Douglass Park, according to a 2012 City Council memo.

During a January 2012 meeting, a community group came up with 12 action items, which included “eliminating the snitch mentality related to assisting police with investigations.” At the time, the city said that residents of the neighborhood were reluctant to step forward as witnesses when police were investigating times.

The two new cameras were added to help with that campaign. Over a decade later, police say one of those cameras allegedly showed Demetrice M. Tatum, 38, pulling out a Taser and stabbing Kejuan Allen, 22, multiple times, on Monday, according to a probable cause statement. 

Those same cameras were cited in another probable statement from Janu. 17 as capturing another apparent stabbing in the park. Gary Pattillo, 46, was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action after he allegedly stabbed a man in the head and neck.

“One of the other major benefits of a camera is that they recall perfectly,” Boone County prosecutor, Roger Johnson told ABC 17 News. “Witnesses may forget things over time they may not have a good vantage point but the camera is always going to remember what happened.” 

ABC 17 News asked CPD if the cameras in Douglass Park had accomplished the city's goal of assisting with investigations. CPD spokesman Brian McNeill responded in an email saying “all surveillance cameras are effective tools during investigations” but declined to provide additional comment. However, Johnson said that finding witnesses is still a struggle. 

“I think it's more of an issue than it ever has been, because in addition to however, the person feels there's really a lot of pressure from community members now for them not to participate with the police. For some reason, there’s an idea that if you're snitching somehow you're doing something bad,” Johnson said. “But people who saw something bad happen, I will tell you, the victims of people who lost their lives in violent crimes they certainly want people to talk about what happened.” 

ABC 17 News asked if CPD has issues with witnesses willing to speak with police, but McNeill declined to comment.

The Boone County Sheriff's Office last year had stated it was having issues with witnesses willing to speak on a double homicide investigation in the 2600 block of East Oakbrook Drive.

In June 2023, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office posted online that it was receiving little cooperation from those who may have been at the house. After a man was charged with evidence tampering in March, Capt. Brian Leer had told ABC 17 News that the department was still dealing with a lack of witnesses willing to provide information. ABC 17 News reached out to the Boone County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday.

Johnson said in some instances, a camera can take the place of a witness. One example he used was a fight that occurred at Columbia Activity and Recreation Center in June2023. Police responded after the fight was over and because so many people were fleeing the scene no witnesses were available. The defendant claimed she was acting in self-defense, according to Johnson.

Lakeisha Thomas pleaded guilty to second-degree assault on Jan. 16. She was initially charged with second-degree assault, third-degree assault, unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action, according to previous reporting. Thomas was sentenced on March 11 to five years of supervised probation with a seven-year suspended sentence.

Other areas in Mid-Missouri have also been making investments in surveillance equipment. In February, the Fulton City Council unanimously voted to approve an agreement to acquire cameras to identify vehicles connected with crime reports. Cole County also already takes part in a vehicle data-sharing program.  Fulton also rolled out a program in December that allowed residents and business owners to register their security cameras in a program that would allow the Fulton Police Department to gather video evidence to help in a criminal investigation. 

“Security cameras are really critical to the work that we do. I don’t think most people realize that at trial we have to have somebody physically on the stand who saw what happened,” Johnson said. “A lot of times now people just aren't willing to do that because of either conflicts with police in the past or pressure from the community so instead of having somebody on the stand sometimes if we have a video that shows what happens that can take the place of a witness testifying.” 

According to Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O’Connell, the state spent $26,451.21 reimbursing law enforcement agencies to help protect witnesses who testify in criminal cases. 

Johnson said restoring public trust is a critical part of making the public more willing to testify. 

”To me, it's really critical because the alternative to the criminal justice system is that people take justice into their own hands and it’s vigilante justice and really that’s no justice at all,” he said.

Article Topic Follows: Crime

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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