WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A judge ordered the release of body camera video that shows the moments that led to a police lieutenant’s suspension.
We fought in court for the release of body camera video that shows what happened when Wilmington police Lieutenant Matthew Malone’s daughter, who was left naked under a blanket and alone in a car in a bar’s parking lot, cried out for help.
Someone heard the 8-year-old and called 911. It happened outside Ogden Tap Room during the establishment’s Oktoberfest celebration.
Early this month, we learned Wilmington police suspended Lt. Malone after an internal investigation. Today, he is back on the job, according to WPD.
We argued to a judge the release of the video was in the public’s interest because we heard from hundreds of community members after WECT first broke the story in October.
Many were concerned that the lieutenant received special treatment in this case as a member of the law enforcement community. Some also asked about the judgement of the lieutenant who is tasked with, at times, responding to calls involving children.
Because Judge Phyllis Gorham ruled in our favor, you can see what happened during the call and decide for yourself.
The judge made a few stipulations about the release of the video. Judge Gorham ordered the faces and voices of children in this video be redacted.
In the video, you see two sheriff’s deputies approach the car the child is inside in a friendly manner, saying, “You aren’t going to get in trouble, buddy. We’re the good guys.”
You can also hear live music from the Oktoberfest celebration in the background.
One minute into the video, as deputies and workers at the bar try to find her parents, she tells the deputies her father also works in law enforcement.
“She says he’s an officer too,” said one of the deputies.
“He’s an officer?” asks the other.
As they wait, one deputy talks to the Ogden Tap Room’s workers, including the man who called 911.
DEPUTY: “She said she wasn’t in there long. She said she was in there for a minute, so I don’t know; but you know, kids?”
WORKER: “When me and him were putting stuff away out here 20 minutes ago, I saw him or her peeing in the parking lot and hop back in the car. Then I was taking out the trash...”
DEPUTY: “She was peeing in the middle of the parking lot?”
WORKER: “Yeah and then I heard some kid yell ‘help, help me.’”
DEPUTY: “That’s what you saw before that.”
WORKER: “I saw her 20 minutes before that, peeing in the middle of the parking lot buck naked.”
DEPUTY: “Naked, peeing in the parking lot. So, 20 minutes ago she was naked peeing in the middle of the parking lot.”
WORKER: “Yeah, me and him were putting all the stuff in the shed.”
DEPUTY: “No dad around?”
A short time later, the father does come around and it appears from the video that the deputy recognizes Lt. Malone.
“Is she not sleeping anymore?” Lt. Malone asks the deputy.
We are not able to hear some of what happens next because the child’s voice is redacted, but her father talks with the deputies, saying that his daughter was "playing the whole time and then she was like ‘I’m going to go to the car and go to sleep’ and I said ‘OK, fine.’”
He explains that her clothes got wet.
“She was out here before when it was raining and she went up and down the slide a bunch,” Lt. Malone said. “So, she was all wet and she was like, ‘I want to take all my clothes off’ and I was like, ‘That’s fine; I’ll wrap you up in a blanket’ and I wrapped her up and she said, ‘I want to go to sleep’ and I said, ‘No problem, go to sleep.’”
Evidence of how wet her clothes were can be seen on the video, when Lt. Malone rings them out and water drains from the clothing.
The explanation from Malone appears to satisfy deputies; one deputy tells Malone he has to go and call his supervisor.
“He’s freaking out,” the deputy said. “The way it came out sounded worse than what it, I think, what it is.”
Lt. Malone apologizes to the deputies.
While they wait, two deputies seem to share their thoughts about what they are seeing and hearing.
One said, “He should know better...of all (expletive) people.”
Three body camera videos captured about 30 minutes of tape.
We know that the case was referred to the Department of Social Services in Pender County; however, no charges were filed against Lt. Malone or his wife, who was also at Ogden Tap Room during the incident. The sheriff’s office said it reviewed the case and consulted with the district attorney. According to the sheriff’s office, what happened doesn’t rise to the level of child neglect charges.
District attorney Ben David said the assistant district attorney who reviewed the case had no knowledge a police officer was involved.
“The senior ADA who came to the legal conclusion that no child abuse occurred did so without hearing the fact that an officer was involved. Malone’s profession played no role in the decision to decline prosecution,” David said.
According to KidsandCars.org, an organization that works to better protect children from the dangers of being left unattended in vehicles, only 20 states have laws about leaving children alone in cars. North Carolina is not one of them.
A law signed by former Governor Pat McCrory in 2016 means that police video is no longer “public record.”
Therefore, WECT had to get a court order to see it. It cost $200 and we had to prove to the judge the release of the video was in “compelling public interest.”
The sheriff’s office did not object to its release, but an attorney for the county stated Sheriff Ed McMahon was concerned about the children in the video.
However, an attorney for the City of Wilmington argued against the release of the video, saying it shouldn’t be released to satisfy public “curiosity.”
We countered that we heard from hundreds of you with concerns over the safety of the child and how the situation was handled.
The attorney from Wilmington also argued it shouldn’t be released because at the time we went to court, on December 16, WPD had an internal investigation open into Lt. Malone’s actions.
We told the judge we could wait until that review was over for the video’s release. It wrapped up earlier this month with Lt. Malone’s suspension without pay on Jan. 6.
Lt. Malone is back on the job as of Tuesday, Jan 21.
Wilmington Police, which is restricted as to what it can say due to personnel laws, sent this statement about the incident, “We have completed our internal investigation into this matter and have taken the action we deem necessary to address it.”