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KPBS, News Outlets Inch Forward In Fight For Police Misconduct Records

A copy of the motion to intervene by KPBS and a coalition of local media orga...

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: A copy of the motion to intervene by KPBS and a coalition of local media organizations in a case related to police misconduct records is pictured, Feb. 15, 2019.

A San Diego judge on Friday allowed local media organizations to have a say in a legal battle over the release of documents that detail instances of police misconduct and use of force. The ruling grants the news outlets, including KPBS, a chance to argue in favor of making public the documents that several law enforcement unions are fighting to keep private.

KPBS and other institutions requested the documents from county law enforcement agencies under a new police transparency law that went into effect Jan. 1. Eight police associations sued in late January to block the release because they say it isn't clear the state statute applies to cases from before 2019.

Superior County Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon temporarily delayed local departments from turning documents over until a March 1 hearing. Sturgeon is expected to issue a final decision on releasing the records at that time.

KPBS and five other local media outlets are working to "serve and promote the public interest in access to information that the Legislature has recognized is of vital public concern—specifically, records regarding instances of use of serious force and confirmed instances of sexual misconduct or dishonesty by police officers," according to the motion to intervene.

The coalition includes the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, 10News, CBS 8 and NBC San Diego.

Despite the judge's stay, some agencies have already responded to KPBS's requests.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department said on Monday it would provide records, including video, audio and text documents, on dozens of use-of-force cases for a fee of more than $354,000. The agency also quoted KPBS more than $40,000 to provide records on three cases of sexual assault and 11 cases of dishonesty.

The charge is due to the use of specialized equipment and software needed to extract exempt information from the records, the department said.

However, a late Friday social media post from San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial/Opinions Director Matt Hall said the sheriff plans to waive those fees. KPBS could not reach a Sheriff's Department spokesperson who could confirm that statement.

The Chula Vista Police Department also provided documents. The records, released without charge, detailed an investigation into an officer who had sex while on duty and later resigned.

The Carlsbad and Coronado police departments said they did not have any responsive records. Unions representing officers at the two agencies are among those that sued to halt the release of records. Officers associations for police departments in El Cajon, National City, Oceanside and San Diego are also part of the suit, as are the Harbor Police and San Diego Schools Police officers associations.

A judge allowed a coalition of San Diego media organizations, including KPBS, to intervene in a legal case over the release of documents detailing past police misconduct.

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