A lawsuit claiming Albemarle County police withheld surveillance footage of an Occupy protest last year is coming to a close. Lawyers have reached an agreement to destroy photos and videos of the rally.
One protestor involved in a corporate greed demonstration almost a year ago says police acted unlawfully by not making footage of the event public. The prosecuting attorney says this case spotlights a possible First Amendment issue.
Attorney Jeff Fogel led the charge for a lawsuit against Albemarle County police, after they denied his request to release over 150 photos and videos from a February 2012 protest in front of the Pantops Verizon Wireless store.
"It was denied on three grounds ultimately: one, there was criminal investigative material; two, it would reveal tactical plans of the police department and number three, it would reveal undercover operations," Fogel said.
Fogel and his plaintiff, Larry Bishop, were able to view the footage police took from the protest this week and found nothing unexpected. What they found odd was why police refused to show the materials in the first place.
"It is a matter of concern, in the first instance, that the Albemarle Police Department would try to hide this material. And to use criteria, which they had no basis in fact for using," Fogel said.
Police initially told them that the footage was taken for a training exercise. Fogel says they later learned police were there because of the Fusion Center, a group started to share intelligence information on terrorists.
"Apparently there's not enough terrorism activity to keep them busy here, so unfortunately a lot of this has been used to gather intelligence about political activities," Fogel said.
Fogel says Bishop was worried the information gathered would deter others from demonstrating, but they are pleased with the outcome.
"We'll take them at face value and we're glad to hear nobody else has seen them, there are no dossiers and that these records will be destroyed," Fogel said.
NBC29 reached out to Albemarle police and the county attorney representing them. Both parties say they cannot comment because the lawsuit is still pending.
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