After a harrowing night, this Pinellas cop backs body cameras: ‘They can’t lie’

Indian Shores police Officer Matthew Holm, 33, was injured when a fleeing driver struck him with a vehicle on May 1. He wasn't wearing a body camera at the time but he wishes he had been. [Indian Shores Police Department]
Indian Shores police Officer Matthew Holm, 33, was injured when a fleeing driver struck him with a vehicle on May 1. He wasn't wearing a body camera at the time but he wishes he had been. [Indian Shores Police Department]
Published October 19 2018
Updated October 19 2018

INDIAN SHORES ó Officer Matthew Holm shined a flashlight at the oncoming car, the bright beam cutting through the early morning darkness in this sleepy beach town. He motioned for the driver to pull over. Instead, the car accelerated right at him.

Holm fired his gun once at the black Mazda before it hit him. The Indian Shores police officer landed on the hood, rolled up the windshield and then fell off the side.

Four months later, a defense attorney took aim at the officer.

The driver, who was arrested in the May 1 incident and is now in jail, got a bail hearing in August. A public defender challenged the officerís account.

"They didnít believe it happened the way I said it did," Holm said. "She basically said I donít have any integrity."

RELATED: Body cameras now standard gear for Florida cops. But not in Tampa Bay

Holm thinks thereís a technology that could have helped him prove he was telling the truth: body cameras.

"Cameras are the best independent witnesses," Holm said. "They canít lie."

In Tampa Bay law enforcement, Holm is an outlier. The Indian Shores Police Department doesnít use them. Neither do many of the regionís biggest law enforcement agencies, calling them unnecessary, complicated and expensive.

Holm said heís always supported body cameras. They help keep officers accountable, he said. But after having his word questioned in court, after almost being seriously injured or worse in the line of duty, now heís a firm believer.

"We are in the public eye. We are public servants," he said. "And when I see a camera on my body, I wonít have to worry about someone complaining about me, because everything will be recorded."

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Body cameras have been widely adopted by many law enforcement agencies across the state and country. But in the bay area, few agencies use them. The Pasco County Sheriffís Office and the Temple Terrace Police Department both adopted body cameras. Both say they are effective at tracking citizen and police misconduct. The Pasco agency often posts deputiesí body camera footage online.

Other departments have said the cost is too steep. Some arenít convinced of the benefits.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has long opposed the devices. He has said he doesnít think "wiring up" his deputies is the best way to improve trust with the community, that itís "offensive" for those officers who do the right thing.

Holm disagrees.

After he was struck, Holm radioed for help and relayed a description of the vehicle. Backup officers found him lying on the side of the road. Holm said his whole body was hurting.

After a chase, driving on punctured tires, then evading police dogs and a helicopter for an hour while hiding in mangroves by the Indian Rocks Nature Preserve, Stephan Weekley was arrested on May 1. He now faces a charge of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

Holm was taken to Largo Medical Center for treatment. He sustained numerous scrapes and bruises to his left arm and both knees.

Then he went home and fell asleep almost immediately, having worked almost 12 hours. But detectives kept waking him up, asking him more questions. If they had video of the incident, the officer said, that would have helped the investigation.

He started thinking about the terrible hypotheticals. What if he had been left unconscious? What if he couldnít call for back-up? What if he had been killed? How would they have found the driver?

How would his new family have found out what had happened to him? Holm, 33, had just returned to duty three weeks after the birth of his first son. He and his wife have been married for just over a year and a half.

"Once youíre involved in an incident like this," Holm said, "you canít help but think what more could have been done, in hindsight."

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Indian Shores police Capt. Ray DeCunto said buying and maintaining body cameras could be too expensive for the town. Grants would definitely help. But the city might be open to acquiring dashboard-mounted cameras for its police vehicles in the future. Indian Shores is hiring a new police chief, so it would be up to them.

"Cameras in society today is a very touchy topic," DeCunto said. "They donít totally paint the whole picture."

The captain said body cameras arenít foolproof. They canít capture everything. But DeCunto said they could help the police prove cases in court and build trust with the community: "I think thatís a positive for law enforcement as well as the citizens."

The driver accused of striking the officer now sits in the county jail, held in lieu of $205,000 bail. It will be months before he stands trial.

Holm has hours of preparation ahead for the court case. Video footage sure would come in handy, he said.

"Everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand words and video, well, thatís everything," the officer said. "Itís undeniable ó itís 100 percent truthful."

"No one could say this video camera lied."

Contact Suhauna Hussain at shussain@tampabay.com. Follow @suhaunah.

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