Hillsborough sheriff looks to add body cameras amid deadly force investigation

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For more than four years, Pasco County deputies' body cameras have shown us, first-hand, what it's like to wear - or come in contact with someone wearing - a badge. 

In most cases, the recordings leave few unanswered questions about what really did or did not happen.

Deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office could be the next to press record. HCSO announced Wednesday it is seeking proposals from body camera vendors that meet a list of requirements, one of them being automatic activation when a firearm is pulled from its holster.

Requests for proposals are due July 31, with a testing period to follow. The total cost associated with the implementation of body cameras for 1,200 deputies, which will include a video storage system, is not yet known, as the agency works with the county to find potential funding sources.

Sheriff Chad Chronister stated, "I am confident in the professionalism and integrity of our deputies, but I recognize the need for transparency to our citizens, particularly as it relates to the use of deadly force or the drawing of a firearm." 

In March, an HCSO deputy shot an unarmed 17-year-old after responding to a domestic violence call. The teen was paralyzed from the chest down. The deputy said he thought the teen was armed, ordered him to "drop the gun," and opened fire when he didn't comply.  

An eyewitness told a different story.

"He didn't say, 'Put the gun down, put the gun down!' he said, 'Stop, show me your hands!' and proceeded to fire directly after that," said witness Jose Aviles.

That case remains under review by the State Attorney's office. Had the deputy been wearing a body camera, the video may have served as the best witness.

Attorneys representing the teen reacted to the office's announcement about adding body cameras.

Michael T. Davis, Manuel J. Alvarez, and Benedict P. Kuehne sent a statement, saying, "Law enforcement claims of being in fear of a gun when no gun is present have become all too frequent and expected. Body cameras are essential to the truth-finding process. This issue was presented to the Sheriff, and the unarmed teen and his family applaud the Sheriff for taking responsibility for his deputies. We look forward to continued dialogue with the Sheriff."

At the Tampa Police Department, 60 of 974 officers wear body cameras. The agency recently applied for a Department of Justice grant to equip 600 more.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office was not available for comment on this story.