SEDALIA — In the span of a month, Pettis County voters elected a new sheriff and the county bought 23 new body cameras for deputies.
These changes come in the aftermath of a deputy-involved shooting, when a Pettis County deputy shot and killed 25-year-old Hannah Fizer. She was unarmed, and the deputy was not wearing a body camera. A special prosecutor did not file charges in the case. He decided the shooting was justified.
“It's no secret the impetus of my entry into this campaign was the shooting with Hannah Fizer, the lack of body cameras, the lack of accountability,” said Brad Anders, the incoming sheriff.
Anders unseated current Sheriff Kevin Bond in the November election. Bond held the office for the last 16 years. However, Anders chose to run against Bond for the position following Fizer’s death.
“I knew that the trust was going to dwindle,” Anders continued. “I knew there was going to be some damage in the community because of the that incident."
Anders plans to do this in-part by prioritizing funding for the new body camera system, if needed.
“I wanted to just give it a shot and see if I could make changes that would be better for the community and try to increase that trust, rebuild some of those broken relationships in the community," he said.
Fizer died on June 13. She was on her way to work when a deputy pulled her over for a traffic stop. The deputy claims Fizer threatened to shoot him, so he shot and killed her. The deputy was not wearing a body camera because the Sheriff’s Office’s body camera system broke down in 2017 due to server storage technology issues. This breakdown lead to a 3-year hiatus of the body camera program.
Under Bond, the department bought 7 cameras and 3 dash cameras with excess funds at the end of 2016. Public records show it cost the Sheriff’s Office about $15,000. The sheriff said he did not have the funds to fix the system.
However, KOMU 8 made a records request for a repair cost estimate, and the sheriff said a “formal quote was not obtained as budgeted funding was not available at the time of inquiry." The department obtained a verbal quote from a vendor, but no one currently in the department knew how much the verbal quote estimate cost.
The sheriff did not request more funds from the county commission to subsidize the repair costs either. The sheriff said, instead, his department applied for grants.
“We did make an application for grants to try to get that system back in place but weren't successful with that,” Bond said.
But there are no records to back that up. KOMU 8 made another records request for the grant applications. Captain Tolbert Rowe responded saying he “found that inquires for possible grant funding were made,” but the department "did not have any records on grant applications being submitted that pertain to body worn cameras.”
With the budget limit the office had, the sheriff chose to fund other priorities.
“My priorities have been for the last several years—well, really as long as I've been sheriff—adequate pay for my deputies,” he said. “I believe my deputies are not adequately paid.”
He also prioritized upgrading the communications system. When deputies got out of their vehicles, the sheriff said sometimes they were not able to communicate back with dispatch.
The sheriff said he does not regret these funding decisions. The special prosecutor relied on nearby business security footage to aid in his review of the case.
“The evidence was still able to be brought out,” Bond said.
The special prosecutor decided not to file charges against the deputy, based on the surveillance video that filmed the entire incident. There was no audio. The special prosecutor noted that body camera footage would have helped him in the investigation.
But Hannah Fizer’s death did shape the county’s funding priorities. Five months after she died, the sheriff said the County Commission used its unallocated general revenue funds to purchase a new system. Public records show it cost the commission about $55,000.
As of mid-November, the department started using the body camera system. There are 23 body worn cameras, so each deputy wears one on their shift. Deputies are required to wear a camera.
“You'll be wearing this camera constantly,” Rowe said. “So if you work the road you'll have your camera on.”
Rowe said the body camera activates when a deputy hits the emergency lights in their car, which also activates the in-car camera. The body worn cameras can be docked and footage uploaded in the car.
Rowe said the footage also uploads automatically to the main server once the deputies park in the lot outside the office.
“So I could pull them (body camera footage) up and review them,” Rowe said. “Or, help them download if he's (the deputy) has an issue. Or if someone calls with a complaint saying the deputy was aggressive or was belligerent on a traffic stop, I can pull the video up and review that data.”
It’s a tool Anders said is necessary and a top-funding priority if the system breaks down again.
“At this point, the days of believing the officer, they're long gone,” Anders said. “We don't expect that anymore. So we are going to have to have some kind of a device that is going to back that up.”
Anders takes office on Jan. 1. He said he is already concerned about loyalty being an issue.
“There are some concerns about you know, losing some of the staff in the jail and losing some of the staff at the sheriff's department,” he said. “That does concern me of what I'm going to walk into."
But overall, he said he's ready.
“There's a long road ahead to be able to rebuild morale, to be able to rebuild trust in the community,” Anders said. “And I think that those are both extremely important elements.”
Anders said he plans to set up strict no tolerance policies requiring deputies to have their cameras on in all public interactions. He also plans to blog bi-monthly about what the Sheriff’s Office is working on. He said he thinks getting dash cameras and cameras inside every prisoner compartment and prisoner transport area is a good goal as well.