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Investigators Have Body Camera Footage Of Deadly DEA Raid

Taylor Dobbs
VPR File
Officers stood outside the scene of a December 22 DEA raid that left one man dead. Their body cameras, small plastic boxes visibly mounted near their badges, were recording. Police say one such camera was recording when the fatal bullets were fired.

State police investigators have body camera footage from the scene of a Drug Enforcement Administration raid in Burlington in which officers shot and killed a man, according to state police spokesman Scott Waterman.

Waterman did not say which agency’s officer was equipped with the body camera or what it captured, but he said investigators are in possession of footage from a body camera that was recording at the time shots were fired, killing 56-year-old Kenneth Stephens in his home.

The DEA conducted the “no-knock” raid with officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as well as local and state police. Stephens was suspected of selling drugs out of his Elmwood Avenue apartment in Burlington. The DEA was raiding his home in an effort to find evidence against him and information that could lead to his suppliers, according to a federal affidavit unsealed after the raid.

VtDigger.org reports that U.S. District Court in Burlington issued 136 warrants last year, but only three were "no-knock" warrants. 

A Vermont state trooper and a DEA agent shot at Stephens 13 times during the raid, Vermont State Police said, killing him.

Initially, Waterman refused to provide any information about the presence of body cameras at the scene.

“Any questions pertaining to the planning, preparations, process, or after-action investigation into the DEA Task Force raid would need to be directed to the DEA,” Waterman wrote in a December 29 email in response to an inquiry about body camera footage.

DEA spokesman Michael Shavers said Wednesday morning that the agency is not releasing details about the search operation.

“No, I can’t get into that because of the ongoing investigation,” Shavers said, when asked if officers at the scene were equipped with body cameras.

Shavers only agreed to share a statement from DEA:

“The Vermont State Police are leading the investigation of the shooting incident involving one of our agents that occurred on December 22, 2015 in Burlington. From a procedural standpoint, as this incident took place in their jurisdiction, they have the lead role to investigate and are doing so at this time,” it read.

The statement also said federal authorities are conducting their own review of the incident.

“Separate from the state’s investigation, the DEA is conducting our own internal review of the facts just as we would with any shooting incident involving one of our employees. Our review will be thorough and comprehensive and among other things, will examine whether the use of force in this case was within the scope of existing Department of Justice and DEA policies, procedures and guidelines governing the use of deadly force. While this review is ongoing and in order to preserve the integrity of that process, we will have no further comment. For questions on the Vermont State Police investigation into this matter, I’d refer you to them.”

After DEA’s refusal, Waterman told VPR Wednesday that Vermont State Police investigators do have footage from one body-worn camera that was recording during the raid.

Body cameras are a popular new tool among police, and the Burlington Police Department equipped all uniformed officers with body cameras last year. Police said the cameras can provide an objective account of what happens in an incident, eliminating the “he said, she said” nature of complaints against police or officers’ accounts of events.

Since the cameras were equipped, the one officer-involved shooting by Burlington Police revealed an embarrassing lack of training in the department. Officers turned off the devices to conceal their positions during a standoff, they said. The cameras have a “stealth” setting that allows them to continue recording without any red lights or electronic beeps, but officers apparently weren't aware of that setting or how to activate it.

Whether the cameras will clarify events in the case of the December 22 DEA raid remains to be seen; authorities haven’t yet released the results of the Vermont State Police investigation into the shooting.

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