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Roundtable: Money For Misconduct Records

February 22, 2019 12:52 p.m.

Roundtable: Money For Misconduct Records

PANEL:

Matthew T. Hall, editorial/opinion director, The San Diego Union-Tribune

J. Harry Jones, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Maya Srikrishnan, reporter, Voice of San Diego

Claire Trageser, reporter, KPBS

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Transcript:

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.

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Public disclosure for a price by the San Diego Sheriff's Department wanted six figures to release misconduct records. Some state DMV laws help undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows but they might be helping ice make arrests across California. And the local test case for Native Americans getting into the marijuana business. I'm Mark Sauer the PBS roundtable starts now.

Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories I'm Mark Sauer. And joining me at the PBS roundtable today Reporter Maya Sree Christian and a Voice of San Diego. Matt Hall editorial and opinion director at the San Diego Union Tribune. PBS reporter Claire Trageser and reporter Jay Harry Jones of the Union Tribune Well a new law taking effect January 1st was designed to turn California from secretive to transparent when it comes to police records. But that hasn't happened so far. Kate PBS made national news when its request to the San Diego County sheriff for records on police shootings prompted a bill for more than three hundred fifty thousand dollars a clear start there.

What to keep CBS keep CBS asked for and did your hand tremble when you wrote that check.

Yeah we were quite prepared to hand over that amount of money. This was part of a request that we made to all local law enforcement agencies and we just asked for everything that the law now allows us to ask for it which is records of officers who were investigated for use of force including killing someone in the line of duty and then a sustained finding of sexual assault or lying during an investigation. So that's all we asked for. Back over the past five years.

OK so it sounds like a pretty straightforward journalistic request. And how does the sheriff How do agencies like the sheriff department how do they justify this six figures then so.

Well what they said is that it would take a lot of time. They had a lot of video and audio related to those investigations and so they would need to review that. And that would cost a lot of money. They sent us an itemized list and add it all up to three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Wow. And Matt you were terribly thrilled with this because the Union Tribune and other news organizations were doing the same thing and you're literally writing an editorial blasting Sheriff Gore when he changed his mind.

What happened in that. I'm a persuasive guy and I know that this was an outrage.

It was shameful. Full stop. I called him and I said we're gonna do an editorial tomorrow that lays it all out there and says This is ridiculous. These are public records and you guys are in law enforcement you're not law enforcement should do follow the law. We talked for 30 minutes and he said yeah you raise some good points Matt. But you know we'll review this next week. So I said fine and write an editorial. Started writing it. He called me back to say we're definitely gonna review this next week.

And I said I'm still writing editorial because you haven't really moved the needle at all. He called back a third time and said OK we're definitely going to review it we're probably going to reconsider it. But I got to talk to my staff first I was like You know what your staff resumed Tribune to Why don't you just tell me that you're going to waive these fees because it's the right thing to do. And I'll write that instead. He said that and that's what we did.

Make no clear go back to the new law itself. What does it call for regarding public release of these police records.

Well yeah like I said what it's meant to to call for. Is any officer who has been investigated for use of force including killing someone and in the line of duty and then it's a little bit different a sustained finding of sexual assault or lying during the course of an investigation. And it's meant to take California previously and had one of the least transparent laws in the country to be able let people see what what investigations had happened into officers. And I mean I think that Matt covered this a little bit in his editorial.

But when you get a cost like three hundred fifty thousand dollars that's not really going to be possible for any news organization especially these days even when we brought it down to OK forget the video forget the audio let's just do paper records it was still going to be upwards of three thousand dollars I think which maybe we could you know fit in the budget but we were starting to talk about is that going to be possible how can we do that. So you know I think included in the light really needs to be that they need to be provided for free.

And that's a good point because the sheriff came back to me when that and our first phone company said we're not withholding these records Matt. And I was like Come on you are right by default the cost is so prohibitive that maybe the Union Tribune or PBS or someone with a with a with a well-paid lawyer could fight you on that. But what about the rest of the journalists who can't do that without freelancers in this story to the public. It's the spirit the spirit of the law.

Jay I want to bring you in my end to the conversation you've been a reporter here a long time. You've dealt with police agencies for a long long time. This law needed in your estimation was California pretty darn secretive when it came to public records and police incredibly so.

What I was curious. Does this apply only to officers that no longer have a job or do they still be active. No I think if anyone even people who are still employed by their departments I remember one club to the citizens law enforcement law was formed way back when. And the unions fought it and they were stripped never given subpoena power and it basically made him a toothless tiger and ever since then I don't know who ever who pays attention to it because it really do anything.

And so always tough for reporters to to to get that and the unions really have been tough and might even run into the same sort of thing.

Yeah. Voice and you guys had to intervene in cases before to try and get footage when someone was killed by a. Law enforcement officer and things like that it's really difficult. And I think that when you're talking about agencies that are funded by taxpayers when they when one of their people take a life or sexually assault someone or you know lie during investigation those are things that the public should be able to have access to. Right.

Now Matt there's an issue here about about timing. The police unions are still battling this and we'll get to some of that in a second but the argument is that they didn't mean to go the law wasn't meant to go back. But the sponsor of the law center Nancy Skinner of Berkeley a Democrat from Berkeley. So she absolutely meant to go back in time not simply to the start of this law.

Yeah unfortunately there was a question about whether January 1st is a cutoff date or whether it should apply retroactively. Of course it should apply retroactively.

I mean this isn't Yeah a little bit separate from that because several local police unions including San Diego are suing their own cities saying you should not be releasing these records because it's not clear in the law that it applies to past investigations that it would only apply to investigations going forward. The author of the law says of course I meant it to apply to pass investigations but the Sheriff's Union is not part of that lawsuit. So it's kind of two different things going on at the same time or there is this lawsuit saying don't release the records at all.

The sheriff's departments wasn't part of that so they would have to release the records. They put this high price tag on it but now they've waived that. And so now the sheriff's department is beginning slowly to publish some of their records online.

They already have two cases online by the sheriff's department indicate that they're going to publish everything online or are they selecting what they decided.

I think that yeah the what they sent in a letter to us is that you know they said it's going to take them a long time to because they still have to review all of these internal investigations and you know redact anything that's not in their opinion part of what the law call calls for them to disclose. I mean they do in the first two cases they're redacting the victims names personal information which needs to be done. And so then they're saying once they're done with each case they will put it all on online instead of sending it out to the news organizations who requested it as it is emerging now that this law was maybe poorly drafted or just was there a shocker.

Sacramento didn't think a law would talk about marijuana later spoiler alert in 64. You could drive a truck through some of the holes in that law. Yeah I mean I think we actually asked Skinner's office did this come up proactively or did you just assume because it wasn't brought up that it would apply. And unfortunately you know and that's partly on us too. We didn't think to ask a question at the time. You know and I haven't seen any news reports that brought it up to say yes it should apply but in the absence of that of course it should be retroactive.

There's plenty of I think case law and eventually a judge will have to settle this.

And to sell a judge has already decided and said yes it applies retroactively but they're appealing that.

So I imagine if that's what happens here you know all of these things are kind of playing out in individual locations in individual counties. I would imagine that we're headed towards a higher court ruling on on all of this.

So right now it's just kind of piecemeal and the agencies still have a lot of discretion in what they're releasing as a practical matter and if they're charging or not charging and it's kind of per request and per agency at this point which right and some are involved in this lawsuit some aren't.

So we've gotten a few you know the Chula Vista Police Department released one report they said that's all they had Coronado said they don't have any reports. And same with Carlsbad or they didn't say they didn't have any reports. They just said we aren't giving you anything. They wouldn't specify whether that meant they didn't think that they needed to or they actually didn't have anything. So it's all yeah kind of playing out in each individual location.

So it seems like the courts are going to have to step in because I had a bit of a mess so maybe the Supreme Court ultimately will have some sort of seems like we'll figure it out over time.

But in the meantime props to the sheriff's department for at least releasing redacted efforts because to your point Greg and other agencies aren't releasing any at all and so that's doubly bad. All right.

Well certainly keep an eye on that one and be following up with them. We're going to move on. California passed a law in 2017 restricting law enforcement agencies in the state from participating in federal immigration enforcement. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are finding ways around that law. They're gaining access to DMV records to locate and arrest undocumented immigrants. More than a million of whom have obtained California driver's licenses in the past five years. And so my start there with the law. Why are ICE agents generally barred from getting DMV records.

Well so Since SB 54 of the California values Act passed.

This day has been trying to create sort of a firewall between local law enforcement and local agencies and immigration enforcement and in general I mean ice isn't really barred from using DMV records. There's supposed to be able to use it for things related to people with criminal histories. But what I found was that it's really hard with these databases to determine each individual inquiry whether they were actually using it for a person with criminal history. And it's not necessarily something that the state is tracking. And I came across a few incidences where there were unauthorized immigrants who appeared to have been found by ice you know their address or the vehicle registration and they had no criminal history in the U.S..

So you're talking about any any kind of serious crime we're talking about here obviously being here without documentation coming over the border illegally is a crime in itself. But you have to be something else. We're looking for some sort of history of crime aside from just simply being here.

Yeah well I mean immigration crimes are civil crimes so you know they're talking about criminal which is a whole different set of it's a whole different system.

And the 2013 law that was signed by former Governor Jerry Brown allowed undocumented immigrants to get licenses. It remains controversial. Give us a little background on that what was the purpose of that. And as I said in the open a lot of people have taken advantage and gotten that license.

Well the law was meant to bring unauthorized immigrants out of the shadow it was supposed to kind of cut down on things like hit and runs and things like that.

All right so you're here without documentation suddenly you're in an accident you're gonna take off you're just because of the consequences are deportation etc. So that was the idea behind all. Yes. And it's but it remains controversial doesn't it.

Yeah. I mean there are people who still think that people who are unauthorized shouldn't you know have access to a driver's license or things like that. And then you know even organizations that are generally supportive of efforts to bring immigrants out of the shadows were concerned because you know this basically meant that a lot of personal information about unauthorized immigrants who were potentially hiding from Immigration officials and trying to stay under the radar would be put into these databases that are linked up to federal law enforcement and to law enforcement other states and things like that.

Now has this changed is this a change with the new administration with the Trump administration was where we're seeing this a few years ago with President Obama when he was in office because as we noted several times on the show there were a record number of folks deported during the eight years of Obama. Was this a crackdown that ISIS is doing and using these DMV records this way. No.

I mean I think that ICE agents have probably always used the databases available to them just like all law enforcement to try and find people. I mean one of the big differences between the Obama administration and the Trump administration is that the Obama administration really focused its interior immigration enforcement on people who have criminal records within the US. And now we're starting to see higher numbers of people who have no criminal history in the US other than the fact that they are here illegally. I wanted to ask you had some.

You know anecdotes of people in your story. Do you have a sense of why ICE was targeting them in particular.

No this was kind of that was the strange thing for all of these all the three individuals who cases I was able to dig into.

None of them in criminal histories in the U.S. and they also didn't have prior deportations. They had things called voluntary returns which is they tend to happen only with Mexican nationals near the border where they get sent back and you don't have the same punishments as you do with deportation. So with deportations you are usually barred from coming back into the country legally for 10 years and they didn't face that. Some of them had been in the country for you know like a decade. They were working. So it was kind of unclear why those specific people were targeted but it was clear in the arrest reports that they were targeted.

You know they had identified them and they were staking out their apartment. They were looking for their vehicles. I'm one of them they were looking for him for over a year. And you know what has happened to them since since they were arrested they're also in the United States they're all in deportation proceedings. So they are trying to fight their deportation orders and potentially try and get legal status in the U.S..

No one does so. What. What does ice have to say about about this and you confronted them as you did your reporting.

Well snow ice and the DMV basically told me that they don't have access to like a list of people who would have these licenses who are unauthorized nor can they kind of just do like a blanket search in these databases for people. And when I asked them if they have the name of someone for another reason and they go into a database and search them what they used to do and be databases they basically told me that how law enforcement conducts its investigations is sensitive information and they couldn't give me any further information.

But they're saying that we're really not doing this as a blanket rule now. But you found several cases workers appear to be the way. Yeah.

And everyone I talked to the DMV it was pretty clear that there are ways that law enforcement can still access this information and they're only supposed to be using it for people with criminal history. But again it doesn't appear that there's a mechanism in place to ensure that every individual inquiry actually is following those guidelines.

And there was a report issued in December showing how DMV records are shared with federal immigration agencies. Give us the background about that report.

So the ACLU of Northern California and the National Immigrant Law Center had been tracking this for a couple of years and they had basically tried to figure out through a series of public records act requests how these how ice could be interacting with these databases. And they got a pretty good overview of them of the ways that ice can still access them and what's being done.

A couple of seconds left in this segment. There was some state leaders looking at loopholes and saying what what might be done to change this.

Well Assemblywoman Lerner Gonzalez said that she is looking into what has been happening and she's in talks with the attorney general and the governor's office to indicate what can be done.

So we'll see what happens and following up on that with a good story. Well we're going to move on their casino operation went bust a few years ago. Now a small native american tribes betting they can recoup losses by selling marijuana at the remote back country site even though this is the county of San Diego has banned pot sales. And Jay this is shrinking story start by telling us about this tribe and where where's their cannabis dispensary located.

Well their dispensary is the what used to be the very front of the casino and to get there you have to drive up a mile long drive just like you did for the casino but give your driver's license to a guard who scans it by the time you get into the dispensary they've already on their iPads have all your information and they're all very helpful and they're very nice people and you can buy edibles and creams and many varieties of pot most of which are grown on all of which are grown on the property. You've got about three acres greenhouses now got room for about eight acres they have for a testing laboratory and they say the stuff is as good or better than anything you find anywhere else in the state.

Yeah well I want to get to that in a second. This is this is a remote area right. It's it's a Santa Isabel has had a way out in the back north east county. Right.

Yeah it's over everybody where. Highway 76 and Highway 79 intersect. OVERBY Lake Henshaw and that location is why their casino which opened in 2007 right before the recession just never made it. It's just there too many other options for people from the populated areas that would be literally driving by other casinos and there's so small was very nice and was popular with the locals. But the locals weren't know not enough folks back there to make it go. They think they can get there together. Location is tough because you can go to San Diego and buy this stuff and rightly but they say they because they're a sovereign nation the state won't recognize them yet they're trying to get into the medical marijuana market.

That's another issue. But. 18 percent tax is what the state takes it from prop 64. They don't charge that and they have no transportation costs because everything is right next door. So they say basically half price per gram costs. I don't know if that's really what it turns out to be but yeah.

So it's pretty it's not location location it's price price price and they're in there instance a lot no tax charge and low overhead because the distribution is right there. So transportation isn't a problem. So let's go back a little bit. The voters approved the recreational use of cannabis in 2016 as you said Prop 64 but jurisdictions like San Diego have to opt in. Most jurisdictions don't but they're in a different category right. Explain that to us.

Right. The unincorporated works very voters said no no dispensaries and they're right in the middle of the unincorporated right.

So if they were a little community there any other community they wouldn't they would be banned because of the county so everybody sort of set about that they thought this was a loophole right.

And they're worried about more tribes that they're a sovereign nation because they're sovereign using the state as you can come in to the whole regular American to prop 64 it didn't have any provisions about tribes it just didn't ignore it completely. They've been lobbying. They formed a group of 23 tribes that are trying to to lobby Sacramento and the governor's office. The last thing the governor in Texas said was you just let us take control and we'll treat you like every other dispensary you give us 18 percent tax. That was a nonstarter for them because they would give up their sovereignty and didn't want to do that.

All right that's a big lever for them why give up that sovereignty. Right. They had been in the big marijuana business for three years. They had started renting liquor inside their casino in some greenhouses to private companies to grow medical marijuana and they had it back in before the recreational pot for the right time. And then last year they changed their regulate their inner regulations to allow sales.

So and there's the California Bureau of cannabis control and that's the line with the state and they're kind of saying the same thing we want to treat you like all the other dispensaries.

Yeah well the state says they can do what they want on the tribal land as long as they only are selling stuff that they grow there. They can't take their their product and try to sell it anywhere else. And that's what they're trying to do.

I know you said this was the first in the San Diego region. Do you know other people like other parts of the state where there are some dispensaries it's a few other tribes.

I don't. They were a little unclear about that and we're not sure. What's interesting is this group of 23 tribes throughout the state called the California native american Canada's Association. The head of the regulatory agency said it was but wouldn't tell me what other local tribes wanted to do this. But he did say you probably go to that Web site you can find out. And there were four other tribes that are part of this who. And he did say that in this area in this area most of them are rural Manzanita Campo loves coyotes the most inaccessible one of them all but then interesting second which is about to open a 300 million dollar resort.

Tremendous marketing and tremendous advertising for their casino.

And I haven't you know get from them what their plans are and I don't think they would tell me until they're ready to announce anything but that's a fast. Yeah. I don't know.

Very interesting and of course they'll they'll rely on the sovereign nation status as well as the other unless they can get the watch in because they would all rather get somehow.

Other states have allowed the taxes to be collected but then redistributed to the tribes in states that allow their on. And so you know thinking about that right now that's the state thing now.

Now you're your story notes as some of the neighbors aren't real happy about this.

And there are a whole group of people who went in and testified before the Planning Commission and the supervisors against allowing marijuana. Because you know for the same reason I wish you were corrupting our kids you know when people were stoned driving on these background that kind of thing. And now they all feel like cheated and frustrated because how often here's this one. What if we start getting dispensaries at every Indian reservation which dot dot the backcountry landscape but the many tribes.

But you noted you quoted some folks from the tribes they're trying to be good neighbors and all but absolutely. But they've got a business here that they want to try and exploit.

Right. And they say theirs is the safest dispensary in the county because you don't have somebody breaking in or waiting to rob it. I mean it's not secure facility. You could ever find there are no neighbors to complain because there are no neighbors. I mean they're in the middle of nowhere. They've never had a police call for police in any way regarding the stuff in fact they've called the police to get illegal grows. They've found in the past years being done by gangs out of central California. So they've had no issues but and they were concerned.

But they definitely want to know what's been met or accidents uptick or do they come to them on Iraq. That's one of the complaints right about.

Yeah it's just started Monday and not many people know that it exists. They haven't really tried marketing it. They want to make sure everything was said so be too early to tell. You can't smoke on the property. You have to take it home or get off the property before you can do anything.

And of course with all recreational marijuana driving under the influence the laws apply to anybody regardless of where you buy it and where you were using it.

Let's talk about a minute. We got about a minute to go in this in this segment. Let's talk about the supervisors are they trying to do something about that. What's the reaction been to this county supervisor. I talked to Dianne Jacob and she.

She said she wasn't even sure this was legal. They didn't have their counsel looking at it. She hadn't known about the dispensary until that week that it called her. It sure sounds like what they're doing is legal at this point but they're going to be looking at it and they don't like and she doesn't like it.

Yeah no. They want to do a preemptive strike of Squanto some of the other tribes are going to get in.

I mean I haven't. And we don't know what they're planning.

Yes. Because we're already making less in taxes on recreational marijuana than we expected. So more tribes are going to get into this.

Good point.

A billion dollars at first blush and they got three hundred and fifty odd million right in there and there was a story this week saying that the black market is still there the culture has been there up kind of by under the table and that's hard to turn around. So another we're just about out of time but that's another fascinating angle to this whole thing as we move into the recreational cannabis industry in California in the use throughout. Well it's good story. We'll see what happens on the follow up there. Well that does wrap up another week of stories at the PBS roundtable.

I'd like to thank my guests my ish recreation and of the voice of San Diego Matt Hall of the San Diego Union Tribune. Claire Trager sir of PBS news and Jay Harry Jones of the Union Tribune. And a reminder all the stories we discussed today are available on our Web site K PBS dot o r Gee thanks for joining us today on the roundtable and join us again next Friday.