Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Court of Appeal Rules:
College Must Disclose Who Complained About Campus Police
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A college that investigated complaints about campus police officers without taking any action must provide the officers with copies of the complaints, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The disclosure is required by the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act, Justice Paul Haerle wrote for Div. Two. While it reversed a contrary ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidichay, the panel sidestepped the broader question of whether the complaints and other documents developed in the course of the investigations are public records.
The officers, Michael J. Seligsohn and Ray Castillo of the City College of San Francisco Department of Public Safety, sued last year for a writ of mandate and declaratory judgment after the college’s Office of Affirmative Action closed their cases but rejected their disclosure requests.
Castillo and another officer learned in November 2001 that a faculty member with a Middle Eastern name had accused them of harassment based on national origin and religion, as a result of an investigation that began right after the terrorist events of Sept. 11. They were informed several months later that the complaint had been withdrawn.
No Probable Cause Found
Seligsohn, a sergeant, was notified in November 2002 that a student had filed “informal charges of discrimination and harassment...based on race and color” based on an incident that allegedly occurred a month earlier. A finding that the complaint was unsupported by probable cause was made in January of last year.
Haerle, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the officers were entitled to disclosure under Government Code Sec. 3305, part of the Bill of Rights Act. The section provides in part that “[n]o public safety officer shall have any comment adverse to his interest entered in his personnel file, or any other file used for any personnel purposes by his employer, without the public safety officer having first read and signed the instrument containing the adverse comment indicating he is aware of such comment....”
The college argued that because the Office of Affirmative Action is independent of the Department of Public Safety, it is not subject to Sec. 3305. The officers’ counsel responded by noting that the chief of the DPS and the college vice chancellor received copies.
Potential Harm Cited
The college offered a declaration by the then-DPS chief, who had subsequently retired, stating that he did not permanently keep the copies and did not treat them as an implication of guilt on the part of the officers. But the potential for harm to the officers’ careers was there, Haerle said, triggering the disclosure requirement.
“[P]erhaps the former Chief did not permanently retain his copies of those letters nor draw any adverse inference from them, but (1) he certainly could have done both, (2) the incumbent Chief may act and feel differently as and when he or she gets copies of similar discrimination complaints, and (3) we are left to speculate as to what an individual well up this particular chain of command, Vice Chancellor Goldstein, thought about and did with his copies of the two letters.”
The college, he went on to note, was obligated by its regulations to conduct “a prompt and thorough investigation of any and all complaints” alleging that a school employee had engaged in discrimination and to report the results to the Chancellor’s Office. Since any employee named in such a complaint thus becomes subject to “significant employment consequences,” he wrote, “we have no difficulty concluding that section 3305 applies to the documents requested by appellants.”
The case is Seligsohn v. Day, A104117.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company