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Sonny Kim case: What we might learn today

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Posted at 7:09 AM, Dec 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-02 07:09:33-05

CINCINNATI – Answers to many questions about the shooting death of Cincinnati police officer Sonny Kim should be revealed Wednesday when prosecutor Joe Deters releases his report on the investigation.

  • Did TrePierre Hummons fatally shoot Kim in an act of "suicide by cop," as then police chief Jeffrey Blackwell said at the time? Police said Hummons, 21, killed Kim, 48, on a Madisonville street on June 19.
  • Was the second officer at the scene, Tom Sandmann, justified in killing Hummons? Police said Hummons fired at Sandmann when he arrived after Hummons had fatally wounded Kim.
  • Who was the probation officer at the scene, and what did he, Sandmann and Hummons' mother, who also was there, testify about the shooting?
  • Why did Kim get out of his car with his Taser drawn instead of his gun when he was answering a call about a man with a gun?
  • And, perhaps the biggest question of all - what does the police video show - and will Deters release it?

Deters said Tuesday he had not decided whether or not to release the video, after months of saying he would not. Deters has scheduled a 11 a.m. news conference to report the findings of the investigation.

FOLLOW the news conference and get updates throughout the day on WCPO.com.

Deters also said that he talked with Kim's widow about what information is coming. Kim's widow and Hummons' father have asked officials not to release the video.

Deters went through the same conundrum before ultimately releasing the video of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing fatally shooting motorist Sam DuBose last summer. In that case, Deters said it was important for the public to see what happened, calling the shooting "an act of murder" and filing murder charges against Tensing. Deters showed the video to DuBose's family first and said DuBose's mother gave her blessing to release it.

Deters commented briefly about the Kim death investigation Tuesday, saying: "He was just doing his job. He got a report of a man with a gun, went right into it. You talk about bravery."

A number of media outlets, including WCPO, have requested a copy of the video footage captured by Sandmann's dash camera.

Editor's note: Our request has prompted several people to ask that we not publish or broadcast the video. We’d like to explain why we have requested the video.

Police dash cam videos are generally considered public records in Ohio, unless they are part of an ongoing investigation. The shooting death of Sonny Kim is no longer under investigation, so it should be available for review by the public.

But legal technicalities aside, it’s important that we take seriously our role as a watchdog for the community. Our intention at this point is only to review the video. No decision has been made about broadcasting it or publishing it online.

Any decision on broadcast or publication would take into consideration several factors: the content of the video, whether it could be offensive to our audience, and most certainly the wishes of Sonny Kim’s family. His widowed wife, Jessica, has written city officials asking that they not release the video. We’d like to assure her and her family that any decision by the media would be made carefully.

Relations between the police and the communities they serve are under intense scrutiny today. If we did not request the video, which is a public record, we would not be fulfilling our obligation as a journalism organization.

The shooting death of Officer Kim was tragic for his family and for our entire community. But by learning as much as we can about the events that led to his senseless killing, maybe we can begin to understand ourselves better and help make our community a better, more peaceful place to live.

Kim, a 27-year veteran of Cincinnati’s police force, was lured to the corner of Whetsel Avenue and Roe Street in Madisonville by a report of a man "walking around, getting belligerent with a gun." Blackwell said Hummons made that call himself.

In August, Deters told WCPO in an exclusive interview that he believes dash and body cam videos -- unlike police reports and 911 calls -- are not public record and wants the Ohio Supreme Court to rule.

"I want some direction here. I want to know because this isn't going to stop. As body cams become more prevalent … dash cams, I want to know," he said.

IN DEPTH: What Deters says about dashcam, body cam videos

He also said the concerns of Kim's widow would weigh heavily on his decision.

"I am strongly opposed to the idea of having this video available to the public," Jessica Kim wrote in a letter to City Manager Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley and Blackwell in August. "It is very sad that there are individuals who are taking this tragedy as if it is a spectating event that needs to be shared. I am certain that those of you who have witnessed the video are in full agreement with me that there is absolutely no value to the public in sharing this."

"I have discretion as to whether to release it," Deters said, "and I would not be truthful with you if I didn't tell you the feelings of the family are important to me. Because I think once that video would become public, it would go viral. His little kids would be able to watch that on the internet everywhere for the rest of their lives."

The prosecutor said he's less concerned about what major media outlets, such as WCPO, would do with the footage. His concern is how others might use it.

"Here's the problem: I believe Channel 9 wouldn't run the bad parts. Channel 12, 5,19 – they wouldn't run the bad parts. But when it's a public record, some moron … will get it and it will be all over the Internet," Deters told WCPO. "I'm not worried about the major media outlets and what they would show. I'm worried about these guys in their mom's basement that do this stuff."