Following months of questions, public records requests and an election, attorneys for a Southwest Virginia family have now seen video evidence of a man who was shot and killed by officers in Glade Spring in 2018.
But the public may never see video of the shooting that resulted in the death of Phillip Cameron Gibson II, 37, of Castlewood.
After Gibson was killed by deputies on May 8, 2018, following a pursuit that ended in Glade Spring, the Virginia State Police investigated, and Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.
Last year, then-Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman and the Virginia State Police denied the family’s requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act to view the video. The Bristol Herald Courier also filed FOIA requests for the footage, but it was also denied.
Newman didn’t seek reelection and Blake Andis was elected sheriff in November. Prior to being sworn in, Andis told the family he would be transparent and show their attorney the video.
“Blake was a man of his word,” said Michelle Castle, one of Gibson’s sisters.
Castle and her sister, Paige Fultz, hired Roanoke attorney John Fishwick to assist with their efforts, even filing a lawsuit in Washington County Circuit Court.
“I have reviewed videos at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office,” Fishwick told the Bristol Herald Courier this week. “At this point, I have no further comment.”
The attorney and family declined to say what was observed in the videos or what they plan to do moving forward.
“I watched the various videos along with the family's attorneys,” Andis said. “The videos show the complete incident from time of traffic stop, pursuit and shooting.”
After reviewing the videos, Andis said he’s satisfied and believes the officers involved had no other choice but to act with deadly force.
The new sheriff said releasing the video to the public would “only cause more undue stress to the officers involved and the family.”
Andis added, “It is a tragedy for everyone involved because we fight daily to protect the lives of citizens, and to have such a traumatic event that will stay with those involved forever is very sad. I pray that the officers involved and the family recovers and is able to cope with this tragic event.”
Andis declined a Herald Courier FOIA request to see the footage, noting that law enforcement agencies can release information at their own discretion. His response said they are considered criminal investigatory files.
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said showing the attorneys, and not the public, the video is “selective transparency, but it is also allowed under FOIA.”
Rhyne, who said she believes the video should be released, said discretion means that they can choose to withhold when they want, if allowed by law, or to release even when they could be withheld.
“There is a policy argument to make that such selective transparency creates the perception of retaliation or viewpoint discrimination, though it may be harder to make when the party getting the access is the family of the deceased,” Rhyne said.
Releasing the video to the news media would be a baseline measure of accountability law enforcement should embrace, Rhyne added.
Castle said she is grateful for everyone who supported the family as they have sought answers. She previously told the Bristol Herald Courier that if the video showed her brother threatened the officers, the family would move on.