Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Names of Officers Involved in Pepper Spraying Ordered Disclosed
Court Says Two Reports Identifying Police Are Not Exempt From California Public Records Act
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The University of California must disclose the true identities of police officers named in a report regarding the Nov. 18, 2011 incident in which students and others protesting rising college costs at the university’s Davis campus were pepper sprayed, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Four, in an opinion by Presiding Justice Ignacio Ruvolo, said the California Public Records Act does not permit redaction of the officers’ names from the report of an independent task force appointed by UC President Mark Yudof and headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.
The incident became an Internet cause célèbre after a videotape of an officer, later identified as UC Police Department Lt. John Pike, methodically pepper spraying a row of seated nonviolent demonstrators after they refused to disperse.
In response to public outcry, Yudof asked Kroll, the consulting company headed by former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, to prepare “an independent, unvarnished report” about the incident and also appointed the Reynoso task force, which also included a number of members of the university community.
Kroll interviewed 14 officers, none of whom were under investigation by the department or were the subject of citizen complaints, the firm stated in its report. The firm also said it did not have access to information generated by the university police department’s internal investigation.
Kroll said the use of pepper spray was a product of “failures of leadership, failures of communication and failures of documentation.” The firm recommended changes in the structure of UC police system-wide, along with changes in how UC makes decisions and how UC officers are trained.
The firm emphasized that recommending discipline, if any, to be imposed on individual officers was outside the scope of its mission.
The Reynoso task force reviewed the Kroll report and issued its own report, declaring that the incident “should and could have been prevented” and blaming “nearly everyone involved,” as Ruvolo put it, including police officers. That report, like Kroll’s, said that actions to be taken against individual officers were outside the group’s charge.
Prior to the simultaneous release of the two reports, the union representing UC officers brought an action against the university to block their being made public. The suit was settled with an agreement that the reports would be released, but with the names of the officers—other than Pike and then-Chief Annette Spicuzza, whose identities were well-known by that time—redacted.
The settlement included an express acknowledgment that the university might have to unredact the names under the California Public Records Act.
The companies that publish the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee requested copies of the unredacted versions of the reports under the CPRA. They brought a petition for writ of mandate, which was granted by Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo.
The trial judge was correct, Ruvolo said yesterday.
Under the CPRA, the jurist explained, the university is required to make the documents public unless a statutory exemption applies, and none of the exemptions claimed by the union does.
The union argued that under the so-called Pitchess statutes, the reports should be considered either to be reports of citizen complaints, or police officer personnel records, and thus not subject to disclosure, except as necessary for litigation purposes.
Ruvolo disagreed, saying the information sought by the newspapers is well outside the limits of what the laws protect from disclosure, and emphasizing that exemptions from public disclosure must be construed narrowly.
“Our Supreme Court has held that a police officer’s identity and conduct while on the job are not private, intimate, personal details of the officer’s life,” he wrote. “Rather, they are matters with which the public has a right to concern itself. “
Disclosing the names of officers involved in this highly visible, highly publicized incident, without any information about disciplinary proceedings or disposition of citizen complaints, will not invade any officer’s legitimate rights to privacy, the presiding justice said.
The case is Federated University Police Officers Association v. Superior Court (Los Angeles Times Communications LLC), 13 S.O.S. 3712.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company