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Editorial: City’s stubborn refusal to release video of jail beating is an insult to the public

Why is the administration of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown continuing to conceal video of the vicious beating of a city jail inmate? There is no longer even the pretense of an excuse for refusing to allow the public to see what went on inside the jail.

The explanation up to now has been that the city was refusing to release the video at the request of the federal prosecutors handling the criminal case against Matthew Jaskula. The former city jailer beat a handcuffed inmate, Shaun P. Porter, to within an inch of his life as two police officers stood by doing nothing. Once the case was completed, both Brown and prosecutors said, the video could be released to the public.

Well?

The case ended last month when Jaskula pleaded guilty to deprivation of constitutional rights under color of law. He admitted pushing Porter face-first into a metal door and then dragging him to a cell. He is expected to be sentenced to a prison term of not longer than 21 months, a bargain given his position of authority and the grievous injuries he inflicted on a helpless individual.

With the conviction, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case said he no longer objected to the public release of the video. Yet, more than three weeks later, the city continues to hide the video. The Buffalo News previously sought a court order to release the tape. That effort failed, but with the case now concluded, we are once again asking a judge to follow the law and make public what is, demonstrably, public information. WKBW-TV is joining in that effort.

Let’s be clear about this: The public paid to build the city jail. It pays the salaries of people such as Jaskula, the cops who did nothing (and those who responded appropriately) and the mayor. It paid the costs of prosecuting Jaskula and of medical care for his victim. The video equipment used to record the jailhouse assault is owned by the public.

However anyone wants to construe this event, the public has a right and an interest in knowing exactly what happened. Just as important, it has an interest in ensuring that public officials don’t start believing they can, at their whim, bury public information that may be shocking or in some way embarrassing.

This video should have been made public months ago. Worries about prejudicing juries are virtually always overblown. Honoring the public’s right to this information may have required more diligent work by the lawyers in picking a jury, but that is no impossible task. And, in the end, of course, no jury was required, since Jaskula chose to admit his crime.

This is matter for Brown to take seriously. He pledged that the video would be made available after the case against Jaskula was completed. That has happened, and the prosecutor in charge says he has no objection to its release.

The video was described by Porter’s lawyer as “brutal,” and given descriptions of the event, it surely was. The video will not be easy to watch, and many people may choose not to. That’s their decision to make, not the city’s. It needs to release this video now instead of fomenting questions about why it continues to insult the public and subvert the law.

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