8 videos: Eppard dash-cam footage remains sealed
"The eight (8) videos you have requested will not be provided to you."
So says Lt. Todd Hopwood, spokesperson for the Albemarle County Police Department, who cites two sections of Virginia Code in denying a reporter the opportunity to view police videos that might shed some light on the last moments of the life of Colby Wade Eppard. The 18-year-old Stanardsville man died January 1 after allegedly stealing a patrol car, leading law enforcement officials on a three-jurisdiction pursuit, and firing at officers.
Similar denials were issued by Captain Charles Swingler of the Greene County Sheriff's Office and by Corinne Geller of the Virginia State Police, the entity leading the investigation. Apparently, they have that right.
"They don't have to release all of it, or any of it," says Alan Gernhardt, staff attorney for the Freedom of Information Advisory Council in Richmond. "It's in their discretion."
About two months ago, in a separate case, the City of Charlottesville exercised its discretion by releasing a video which showed a summertime police pursuit that ended up demolishing part of a house and, ultimately, raising questions about the propriety of chasing criminals on residential streets. On January 12, the perpetrator in that case, 17-year-old Tsaye Simpson, pleaded guilty as an adult to several crimes including eluding police, grand larceny, and entering a dwelling with the intent to commit larceny.
In the Colby Eppard case, the tragic events began when the young man allegedly caused an accident in a vehicle–- a 2002 Daewoo Nubira–- belonging to his aunt. While a Greene County Sheriff's Deputy pursued him on foot, Eppard allegedly stole the Deputy's patrol car (by smashing out a window with a rock) and later bragged to at least one bystander about turning the tables on law enforcement.
The boasts, according to recordings of scanner chatter recorded by NBC29, included Eppard allegedly saying, “I stalk my f****** prey.”
In southern Albemarle along Route 20, Eppard died in a hail of bullets, and many citizens still seek answers that might be provided by the various dash-cams. Lt. Hopwood says that internal investigations–- such as the one that preceded Albemarle's early-2008 release of the infamous pedestrian-in-a-wheelchair video–- need to conclude before that might occur.
"Once the internal investigation is completed," says Hopwood, "we'll sit down with the chief. I'm saying 'no' now, but it's not denied in perpetuity."
Correction: The middle name of Mr. Eppard is Wade, not Wayne. The error has been corrected above.