How Police Departments Are Disclosing Records Under SB 1421
Monday, May 6, 2019
Photo by Claire Trageser
The public can now see past records of police shootings, use of force and sexual assault from some San Diego County police departments, after a lawsuit was partially resolved last month.
But each city is handling how it releases those records in a different way and the cities aren't necessarily releasing records of recent police shootings first.
A new state law, SB 1421, says law enforcement agencies must make public internal reports about officers investigated for police shootings and use of force, and who were found to have committed sexual assault or lied during the course of an investigation.
A lawsuit challenging application of the law to past records was brought by eight local police unions, but the court rejected their claims that past records should not be released. That means now the police departments are beginning to release their records.
Here's how some local cities are doing it.
El Cajon has 19 cases back through 2001 that are subject to be released under SB 1421, said Barbara Luck, an attorney with the city of El Cajon Attorney’s Office.
"El Cajon is posting the responsive documents in reverse chronological order; the most recent to the oldest," she wrote in an email.
El Cajon has not yet released records related to the death of Alfred Olango, an unarmed man shot by police in 2016 that sparked community protests.
But Luck said "any records pertaining to pending or current litigation will be released when the particular matter is concluded." While the officer who shot Olango was not charged, Olango's family is still pursuing a civil lawsuit against the city. So his records will not be released until that is resolved.
National City has released records from two cases so far, one from 2001 and one from 2004. Both were for officer-involved shootings.
In the 2001 case, an officer shot and killed an unarmed man, was placed on leave and then fired from the department.
In the 2004 case, an officer shot a man who was speeding in a car toward him, in an apparent attempt to run him over. The department determined use of force was justified.
Robby Contreras, deputy city attorney for National City, said the city is releasing records in chronological order, the oldest first. That means it will be some time until the city reviews records relating to Earl McNeil, an unarmed black man who died after officers arrested him. McNeil's family is also suing the city over his death.
Oceanside has so far released records from seven cases of use of force incidents involving great bodily injury and one case of lying during the course of an investigation, and is in the process of reviewing and redacting records from 21 cases of officer-involved shootings, said Annie M. Higle, the police and fire legal advisor for the Oceanside City Attorney’s Office.
She said it will take six to eight weeks to review and redact the officer-involved shooting cases and each file will be released as the review is completed.
"In terms of order, we reviewed personnel matters first, then use of force cases," she said in an email. "We are now in the process of reviewing and redacting (officer-involved shooting) files." She said officer-involved shooting cases are being reviewed in reverse chronological order.
San Diego Sheriff's Department
The San Diego Sheriff's Department has released four cases of deputies who committed sexual assault and 18 records of deputies who were found to have lied during the course of an investigation.
In each case, the deputy either resigned or was fired.
The department has 30 cases of officer-involved shootings that will be released, and 76 use of force cases through the beginning of 2014. A spokesperson for the department said written records are being produced first, but would not clarify how the order of cases to be released was set.
The department is publishing all records on its website.
When asked by KPBS about the records releases at a recent press conference, Sheriff Bill Gore said reviewing and redacting the records takes time, and the department has hired additional staff to help in the effort.
"That all takes time, and as we go through and process them, then we release them to the requester and also put them on our website so they're available to other agencies and individuals that might have an interest," he said.
Cities in San Diego County are taking different approaches to their release of past records of police shootings, use of force and sexual assault, and cities aren't necessarily releasing records of recent police shootings first.
Matt Hoffman contributed to this story.
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