Youtube film featuring well-regarded defense attorney raises troubling questions
COLUMBIA, 12/10/11 (Beat Byte) -- On its way to declaring the Boone County Sheriff's Department(BCSD) "more professional" than the Columbia Police Department (CPD), a new Youtube video featuring Columbia criminal defense attorney Jennifer Bukowsky connects the police to a notorious Columbia lynch mob, but also raises questions about the video's producer, who has had legal problems in both civil and criminal courts.
The video represents a nationwide if not international phenomenon that has come to Columbia in just the past few years: the steady movement of investigative reporting -- in fits and starts -- away from professional newsrooms and into the hands of untrained journalists, many of them young.
"The Boone County Sheriff's Department people, in 1923, are trying to stop the lynching," Bukowsky explains on the video, after a detailed and dramatic retelling of the James T. Scott murder. "And the Columbia Police Department is standing by letting it happen. So these are problems going way, way back."
A white mob broke Scott -- a black man -- out of a Boone County jail cell, marched him to a bridge near Providence and Stewart Roads, and hung him, over unproven and untried allegations that he had sexually assaulted the 14-year-old daughter of an MU professor.
Racially-charged allegations, from profiling to excessive force, have dogged CPD for decades, and led to the creation of the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board. Nonetheless, the lynching connection "is a stretch that is likely offensive to many members of the Columbia Police Department," said CPD spokesperson Sergeant Jill (Wieneke) Schlude.
The lack-of-professionalism comparison is also "a pretty serious claim to level with anecdotal evidence," she told the Heart Beat. "Are there things being done in the video I would like to see done differently? Sure. But I cannot say with 100% assurance why some officers took the action they did or if any of it was inappropriate."
The video begins by comparing filmed encounters with on-duty sheriff deputies and police officers, as its producer Matthew Stephen Akins (above), founder of law enforcement watchdog group Citizens For Justice (CFJ), introduces himself and his film crew.
Sheriff's deputies are noticeably more polite and receptive. Police officers, on the other hand, seem agitated, even abrasive. A patrol car reportedly driven by CPD officer Addison Watson speeds off as Akins and crew approach, politely asking, "Is everything all right sir? Everything all right?" Other police officers shine their spotlights directly at the crew, Akins says to prevent filming.
After watching Akins' video, "You can't help but notice the Boone County deputies, they come up to you and introduce themselves," Bukowsky tells him. "They're not trying to avoid being filmed; they're being respectful and professional...It's just a difference in attitude toward you. It seems like, with the Boone County Sheriffs, that it's their duty to serve and protect, and if a citizen asks them something, they respond professionally."
Toward the police, however, Bukowsky directs pointed criticism. "The Columbia Police Department seems to have an attitude that it's okay to do things to you like leave when you're trying to ask if there's a problem, or shine their lights to prevent you from filming...like we know where you are, we're following you, we're watching you....It seems to be almost a pattern of intimidation."
At that point, Bukowsky introduces the Scott lynching, asking Akins if he has heard of the case. Local KOPN radio talk show host Tyree Byndom then narrates the tragic retelling.
Despite its powerful overtones, the critique isn't accurate, said CPD's Schlude, who worries that both Bukowsky and Akins are adding a slanted spin.
"I think Akins would be more credible if he edited less and maybe posted every video, regardless of whether it supported any theory about the police," she told the Heart Beat. Akins has a sizable Youtube film library about local law enforcement.
"Interviewing defense attorneys who clearly have something to gain -- clients -- by being anti-police doesn't help matters, either," Wieneke-Schlude (above) added. "I'm not saying Mrs. Bukowsky is a bad person, but in my opinion she doesn't add to the credibility of CFJ from an officer's perspective."