WINSTON-SALEM, NC (Queen City News) — The videos we obtained from the Winston-Salem Police Department do not show everything that happened the night Officer G.J. Mager arrested Hope Solo. The fact any portion of the video ever became public took a courtroom fight.
North Carolina lawmakers exempted body and dash camera recordings from the public records law. The only way the public can obtain those recordings is to pay $200 to file a lawsuit against the agency that made the recordings, asking a judge to order the agency to disclose the video.
In this case, we filed the lawsuit against the Winston-Salem Police Department and the Forsyth County District Attorney on April 18. In response to the petition, WSPD’s Senior Assistant City Attorney, Lori Sykes, identified five police officers whose images or voices appear in the video.
The identification is required by law.
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In a July 6 hearing, Sykes and Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Penn Broyhill walked up to the defense table and were joined by Chris Clifton, a criminal defense attorney in Winston-Salem, making an appearance on behalf of Solo to ask the judge to not release her recordings to Queen City News.
Clifton was also accompanied by another Solo defense attorney, James “Jim” Trusty who made the trip to Winston-Salem from his home in DC. Trusty is also working as one of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys fighting the U.S. Department of Justice’s Mar-a-Lago raid.
In the July 6 hearing, Sykes argued Barr could not represent QCN as a pro se litigant because of a North Carolina law barring corporations from representing themselves. Sykes did not raise the issue until the hearing where Clifton and Trusty were present.
Clifton declined to comment when QCN reached him by email on Oct. 31. “Please refer to the statement provided by Hope’s team last Thursday,” Clifton wrote to QCN Chief Investigative Reporter Jody Barr. Trusty was also included in the emails but never responded.
QCN and Barr had successfully petitioned for access to three North Carolina Highway Patrol recordings, each involving U.S. Congressman Madison Cawthorn. Cawthorn was involved in traffic stops in Polk, Cleveland, and Buncombe Counties. In each case, the North Carolina Highway Patrol’s lawyer did not fight the release of the recordings.
The NCHP never raised the objection WSPD’s Sykes raised, which caused a significant delay in the pursuit of the Solo recordings and a large expense to hire an attorney. The move forced QCN to hire Mike Tadych, a First Amendment attorney out of Raleigh.
Although a defendant captured in a police recording does not have statutory standing in these lawsuits, the judge allowed Clifton to file a memorandum in the case, asking the judge to deny the QCN petition for the recordings. The recordings, “are of a personal nature and will irreparably harm Ms. [sic] Stevens and her to minor children in a variety of ways should the footage be released for public consumption,” Clifton wrote in the memorandum filed on June 13, 2022.
The WSPD’s attorney and Broyhill fought alongside Solo’s criminal attorneys to oppose releasing the video recordings.
The NC police recordings law details eight factors a judge must consider in deciding whether to release all or a portion of a police recording:
- Release is necessary to advance a compelling public interest.
- The recording contains information that is otherwise confidential or exempt from disclosure or release under State or federal law.
- The person requesting release is seeking to obtain evidence to determine legal issues in a current or potential court proceeding.
- Release would reveal information regarding a person that is of a highly sensitive personal nature.
- Release may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person.
- Release would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.
- Confidentiality is necessary to protect either an active or inactive internal or criminal investigation or potential internal or criminal investigation.
- There is good cause shown to release all portions of a recording.
Clifton argued there is “no compelling public interest” in Solo’s arrest, despite the fact his client is an internally-known athlete, a World Cup champion, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. “The media’s voyeuristic appetite for any potentially scandalous material to general “clicks” or viewers is not a compelling public interest that a release is intended to serve,” Clifton argued.
On July 6, Judge Michael Duncan found there is a “compelling public interest” in the Solo police recordings, but denied QCN’s petition at the time finding releasing the video at the time could “create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.” Despite the denial, Duncan allowed us to renew our petition 30 days after Solo’s criminal charges were settled.
Solo pleaded guilty to DWI in July. In September, QCN filed a new petition for the recordings and on Oct. 10, Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton ordered the WSPD and the Forsyth County District Attorney to release portions of the recordings.
Sykes asked for 15 business days — three work weeks — for the WSPD to edit the videos to comply with the court order, but cut that to seven days after QCN objected to the delay. WSPD released the recordings on Friday, Oct. 21 at 4:52 p.m., with eight minutes left in the final business day.
The judge ordered the faces of Solo’s children to be blurred and the video of the WSPD officer who stayed behind with Solo’s children would not be released. The judge’s order also allowed WSPD to mute the audio of a call Solo placed to her attorney while handcuffed in the back of a police car. The WSPD did not turn that video over, despite the order allowing the video from that recording to be released. The judge also ordered computer and phone screens belonging to officers to be blurred and Solo’s ride to the EMS station for the blood draw to not be made public.
The WSPD initially told the court there were eight hours of video, but the department turned over only an hour and 20 minutes of body and dash camera video to QCN.
“It’s not atypical for the government to object or oppose to the request for the release of these recordings,” QCN Mike Tadych said in an interview following an Oct. 12 hearing in Forsyth County. “What is atypical was having to come seven times in order to accomplish that; that’s unusual.”
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Tadych, who’s argued and won petitions for police recordings across the state, told QCN he’s never seen a law enforcement attorney and a district attorney join forces with the criminal defense team of a person being prosecuted — except in Forsyth County.
“I would have to say it’s unusual. Interestingly, I think the only other times it’s happened to me, are here in Forsyth County,” Tadych said.
On Oct. 10, we asked Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson for an interview. The chief did not respond to that request and the others we submitted to her and the department’s public information officer, Kira Boyd. One of the questions we had for the chief was whether the WSPD has a policy concerning allowing arrestees to use their cell phones while in police custody. The other point was to explain the department’s relationship with Solo’s criminal defense team in this case.
Thompson never responded to any of the emails submitted to her.
Sykes, though, responded on behalf of the chief in an Oct. 27 email — 17 days after our first interview request — to Tadych confirming the WSPD did not have a policy concerning arrestees’ using their cell phones in police custody, “That is a matter in the officer’s discretion based on the type of matter being handled and any other relevant considerations.”
We attempted to interview Sykes and Broyhill following the Oct. 12 hearing where Judge Doughton ordered the Hope Solo recordings to be released.
“Can we talk to y’all about why the state and the Winston-Salem Police Department fought so hard to keep this video from the public of someone you charged with crimes,” Barr asked Broyhill and Sykes as the pair left the courtroom.
“We were just following the law,” Sykes said as she followed Broyhill out of a door leading to the stairwell.
“What is the relationship of Hope Solo’s criminal attorneys to your offices? Is there anything at all that you all want the public to know about you guys fighting the release of this video,” Barr asked as Broyhill walked up the stairs toward the DA’s office and Sykes walked down toward the courthouse exit. Broyhill did not respond to any of our questions.
Sykes said something as she walked away, but what she said was not clearly picked up by our camera.