Ramsey County Sheriff submits proposal for deputies to wear body cameras

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The Ramsey County Sheriff is submitting a proposal to have all deputies, both on the street and in the jail, to wear body cameras.

The move took on an increased urgency after FOX 9 investigation showed an inmate being assaulted several years ago in the Ramsey County Jail. At the time, it was captured on a handheld camera used to document problem inmates. FOX 9 has learned the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department has more than 2,000 such videos. Jeff Lakela has been trying to get a copy of his video, but has been told it’s not public. 

“There’s no excuse to be left tightly shackled by both your hands and feet, in a holding cell, a locked holding cell,” said Lakela.

Tuesday at a Ramsey County Board meeting, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher outlined his plan to have more than 400 body cameras for deputies on the street and in the jail at a cost of $2.4 million over the next two years.  

“One of our top priorities has to be to make sure the environment in the jail is one that is safe, dignified and respectful, but also doesn’t lead to lawsuits,” said Sheriff Fletcher.

However, there’s a catch. Under state law, body camera video is public if it documents the use of force resulting in substantial bodily harm. Video inside a jail is likely to be considered security data, which is generally not public, for security and privacy reasons. Lakela says he as has run into this during his attempts to get his video.

“Anything that can jeopardize the security of the jail, but they’re using it as a blanket excuse, that’s my concern,” said Lakela.

“The data collected in the jail is really arguably not as clear,” said Fletcher. “Most jails argue that any videos in the jail are security data,” said Sheriff Fletcher.

For board members, getting buy-in from the community is key. There are also questions about when the cameras will be activated.  

“We know when no one is looking is when bad stuff happens,” said Ramsey County board member Trista Matas-Castillo at the meeting.

While the camera may never blink, it needs to be turned on first.  

“I would highly recommend that the community tell us when they want that camera is on,” said Matas-Castillo.

“Ultimately, that decision will be mine – about when the camera’s on,” said Sheriff Fletcher.