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KCSO plans to give body cams to all deputies, right now some deputies have them but others don't

Goal is to equip every deputy with a body camera
Kern County Sheriff's Office (FILE)
Posted at 5:00 PM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 20:09:45-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A legal battle is ramping up after the family of a man shot dead by a Kern County Sheriff's Office deputy last year, is fighting back.

It all started back on October 20th of last year. That's when KCSO Deputy Jason Ayala shot and killed Mickel Lewis. In the initial report, KCSO said Lewis charged Deputy Ayala leading up to the shooting. But Lewis's family said that's not true and that the shooting was racially motivated.

Now they are filing a wrongful death lawsuit against KCSO. The family and their attorney are set to hold a press conference Friday in Los Angeles.

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In light of that shooting, some have asked why the deputy-involved did not have a body camera.

At the time of the shooting, some KCSO deputies didn’t have body cameras. Some still don’t to this day. However, KCSO said their goal, is to change that.

“The Kern County Board of Supervisors has agreed to equip every deputy with a body camera,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood back in December.

That was in connection to a settlement with the state attorney general reforming a wide range of practices at KCSO. According to the settlement: “KCSO has begun to reform policies and training; supplied deputies with new equipment, including body-worn cameras; and invested in additional technology and infrastructure.”

But that was after the October 20th shooting of Lewis, who was shot and killed by a KCSO deputy who was not wearing a body camera. The sheriff’s office released a video explaining their side of the story, showing surveillance footage from a nearby business.

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“It tells you that Mr. Lewis is charging but you never see that on the video,” explained civil rights attorney Bernard Alexander of the video.

Lewis’s three children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the agency and speaking in a news conference Wednesday said they believe KCSO's claim is false.

So, when is KCSO due to have all their deputies equipped with cameras? The agency told 23ABC in a statement: “The Kern County Sheriff’s Office is currently in contract negotiations with Axon as part of the agreement with supervisors to equip every deputy with a body-worn camera. As mentioned in the board of supervisor's agenda, this will be implemented in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.”

The sheriff’s office also said that doesn’t mean all deputies will be equipped with cameras beginning July 1st this year. That’s just when the money for the cameras will be in the budget. The goal is to get all deputies equipped sometime throughout the next fiscal year, which ends July 1st, 2022.

23ABC also asked KCSO what percentage of their force currently has body cameras, but had not received an answer at this time. However, they did confirm that deputies with their metro patrol, the Wasco substation, the electronic monitoring program, and their central receiving facility jail are equipped with body cams.

According to that settlement with the state from December, Kern County officials and KCSO acknowledge that continued reform within the agency is necessary and that work remains to be done and in a sustainable manner over time.