Monday, July 1, 2013
C.A. Limits Disclosure of Police Officer Photographs to Inmate
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department must provide current photographs of several deputies to a plaintiff who claims he was beaten while an inmate at the county jail, but under more stringent conditions than those ordered by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Three Thursday granted a writ of mandate sought by the deputies, who said the order by Judge Ramona See invaded their privacy and placed them in danger of retaliation by inmates. The judge ruled last year that plaintiff William Tillman established grounds for disclosure for the photographs—which his counsel said are needed in order to properly interview witnesses—and that the department must provide them, conditioned on plaintiff’s counsel maintaining possession and not showing them to persons not connected with the litigation.
Tillman says the deputies accused him of “bad-mouthing them behind their backs,” Justice Walter Croskey explained for Div. Three, in the March 2011 incident. He claims he was slammed against a wall and knocked unconscious, and that when he regained consciousness, he was handcuffed behind his back and was struck several times on his face and head, kicked in the ribs, pepper sprayed, shot in the back with a stun gun, and finally falsely accused of attacking his attackers.
Rights Violations Alleged
He sued on claims for battery, violation of civil rights, and negligence. Sheriff Lee Baca and other officials were named as defendants, along with those allegedly involved in the beating.
The deputies’ photographs were among 15 categories of peace officer personnel records sought by motion. See granted the motion in part, giving defense counsel five court days to produce the photographs.
Proceedings were stayed by the Court of Appeal after the defendants sought a writ.
Croskey said it was an error to apply Penal Code Sec. 832.7 and Evidence Code Sec. 1043 to the case. Those laws set forth the procedure for obtaining “personnel records” of peace officers that are discoverable under Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531.
Not Personnel Records
The photos are not personnel records, in the statutory sense, merely because they are in personnel files, the justice explained. They are not “personal data” and are not the types of information that is generally considered confidential, and there is nothing to indicate that the Legislature intended to protect them from disclosure.
Nor, the justice went on to say, are they protected from disclosure by the state Constitution’s privacy clause or the official-information privilege.
“A peace officer whose duties do not require anonymity generally has no substantial interest in maintaining the confidentiality of his identity….Petitioners work in the Men’s Central Jail where their identities are known to the inmates. They have not shown that they anticipate working undercover or that their duties now or in the future require anonymity. We therefore conclude that they have shown no legally recognized privacy interest in their service photographs.”
The official-information privilege, he added, is limited to information acquired in confidence during the course of performing official duties.
The justice went on to write that while police officers’ photographs are not confidential, the usual rules governing discovery, including procedures for protective orders, apply.
Treating the deputies’ opposition as a motion for protective order, Croskey said the trial judge should have imposed more rigorous protections against misuse of the photographs. Such measures must include the appointment of a third-party monitor, who will maintain custody of the photos and will be present when they are shown to inmates; requirements that inmates viewing the photos do so only in a secure location and only after they have been identified, by name, as potential witnesses; and a ban on copying, the justice said.
Attorneys on appeal were Thomas C. Hurrell, Melinda Cantrall and Rittu Kumar of Hurrell Cantrall for the deputies and Gary S. Casselman for the plaintiff.
The case is Ibarra v. Superior Court (Tillman), 13 S.O.S. 3327.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company