Friday, April 20, 2012
Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Disclosure of Police Identities
Justices Say They Will Decide Whether Officers Involved in Shooting Can Shield Their Names Under California Public Records Act
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the identities of police officers involved in shootings in the line of duty are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act.
The justices, at their weekly conference Wednesday in San Francisco, voted unanimously to review the ruling by Div. Two of this district’s Court of Appeal in Long Beach Police Officers Association v. City of Long Beach (Los Angeles Times Communications LLC).
The appellate panel affirmed a ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick T. Madden, who denied a motion for preliminary injunction by the Long Beach Police officers Association. the union sought to block the city from complying with two public records requests by Los Angeles Times police reporter Richard Winton.
Winton made his requests after officers shot and killed Douglas Zerby, an intoxicated, unarmed 35-year-old man on Dec. 12, 2010. officers said they mistook a garden hose nozzle that Zerby was carrying for a gun.
Winton asked for the identities of all officers involved in the Zerby shooting, and separately requested that the city name all officers involved in shootings since 2005. the city notified the LBPOA that it would make the disclosure absent a court order to the contrary.
The union filed suit, the city responded by supporting the union, the Times’ parent company intervened, and the judge granted a temporary restraining order pending a hearing on the preliminary injunction motion. the union said it feared for the safety of officers once their identities as having been involved in shootings became disseminated online.
Following a hearing, however, Madden said the information did not fall under the CPRA’s exemptions for unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, investigative reports, or personnel records. He also rejected an argument under the “catchall” provision that the public interest in nondisclosure outweighed the public interest served by disclosure of the names.
The judge denied the preliminary injunction motion without prejudice, saying the union or the city could seek to block disclosure upon a stronger evidentiary showing that a particular officer’s safety would be jeopardized by disclosure.
The Court of Appeal granted a stay, delaying disclosure pending the outcome of the appeal. But the court ultimately concluded that Madden was correct.
“We share the [trial court’s] view that relevant case law leads to the inexorable conclusion that the names of officers involved in officer-involved shootings over a five-year period must be disclosed under the CPRA, absent any particularized showing of the interests served by nondisclosure,” Justice Kathryn Doi Todd wrote for the court.
She dismissed as speculative a declaration by a police lieutenant asserting that officers, including two who had been involved in shootings, had been the subject of threats. Nor had the city or the union offered anything more than speculation in support of claims that secrecy was in the public interest, which must be shown in order for the catchall exemption to apply, the justice said.
In other conference action, the justices:
•Agreed to decide whether a plan to expand the San Diego State University contained adequate mitigation measures under the California Environmental Quality Act. The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. One, held in City of San Diego v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, D057446, that the university and the trial court erred in assuming that the university could not pay the city and other agencies their “fair share” of mitigation costs unless the Legislature specifically appropriated funding.
•Granted review in People v. Nuckles, F061562, in which the Fifth District Court of Appeal, in an unpublished opinion, upheld a conviction for being an accessory after the fact under Penal Code Sec. 32. The defendant argued on appeal that her conviction was not supported by substantial evidence, because the felon she was convicted of harboring did not commit another felony while he was staying with her, and he was only wanted for absconding from parole.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company