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KPBS Requests Law Enforcement Records; Police Unions Sue To Prevent Disclosure

February 11, 2019 1:17 p.m.

GUEST: Claire Trageser, investigative reporter, KPBS News

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS is asking police departments from across the county to open their books and show their records about officers who are under investigation. But last week a judge put a temporary hold on releasing the records until after a hearing next month. KAYE PBS and several other local media organizations filed a motion to intervene on that case which would allow them to argue the records should be released. KAYE PBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser joins me now.

Welcome Claire. Thank you.

So to start what is the new state law that allows more access to police records right. So historically California actually had some of the strictest laws in the country about accessing these police personnel records. And so this new law attempted to change that a little bit and it was written by Nancy Skinner who's a representative from Berkeley California. And it allows any member of the public to request personnel records of law enforcement officers who are under investigation for things like shootings and use of force and then also sustained findings of sexual assault and lying about investigations.

And after the new law went into effect what did Kay PBS do right. So as soon as the new law went into effect which was January 1st of this year we requested records from all the local police departments and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol back through 2014. So we were asking to see records for any law enforcement officer who was under investigation for use of force which includes killing someone in the line of duty. And then the sexual assault and lying about an investigation. So those records request haven't all been granted.

Tell us what happened. Right so after the law passed several local police unions filed a lawsuit to prevent their police departments from releasing records about police officers and their argument is that the law isn't clear that records should be released retroactively. So that means records from before the law went into effect on January 1st. They're saying you know the police department shouldn't actually have to release those. And so that means that the public would only be able to see records of new investigations but not ones from the past. And so a judge put a hold on releasing the records until there's a hearing about that lawsuit and that hearing will be on March 1st.

And tell us about PBS whose involvement in that lawsuit. So Kaye PBS and several other local media organizations filed a motion today to intervene on that case and that would allow them to present an argument that the records should be released and we're being represented in that by Matthew Hall grown from the Shepard Malone law firm who works on a lot of First Amendment issues. So have you received anything from the local police departments right so before this stay on releasing records. We got a few records from some local police departments the Chula Vista Police Department released one report about an officer who resigned to avoid being fired after he was found having consensual sex in a public place and then both the Coronado and Carlsbad police departments responded that they had no records that fit our request.

And someone from Coronado clarified that meant that there were no investigations between 2014 and 2018 which is when we asked for the records from Carlsbad wasn't willing to give that clarification. So we don't know if that means they didn't have any investigations or they just didn't think they needed to provide any records. And then all the other law enforcement agencies that we asked for asked for extensions and now they're saying some are saying that they don't need to provide the records until this legal matter is settled. And now K PBS has a separate lawsuit against the sheriff's department is this related to what's going on here.

This is separate from that kind of about the same thing but two totally separate lawsuits in that separate case. KP UBS is suing the San Diego County Sheriff's Department for information on how long it took to respond to complaints made about its employees. So we will have updates on that lawsuit when they're available.

We will be following along for the updates I've been speaking with K. PBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser. Thank you Claire. Thank you.