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San Diego Police wait two years to release video of officer shooting woman in mental-health crisis

State law says police must release shooting videos within 45 days, except under the narrowest of circumstances. But the San Diego Police Department kept videos from one shooting under wraps for two years—until now. KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser explains. A warning, this story contains graphic images and sounds.

State law requires police agencies to release videos of officer-involved shootings within 45 days, except under the narrowest of circumstances.

But the San Diego Police Department kept videos from the shooting of a woman experiencing a mental-health crisis under wraps for two years. It finally became public in May after a demand from the First Amendment Coalition.

The information about what happened in police shootings is supposed to be available to the public for good reason, said David Loy, the legal director of the First Amendment Coalition.

“The point of California's transparency laws is to give the press and the public the right to decide that for themselves and not depend only on the police department's own explanation for why,“ Loy said.

San Diego Police usually release heavily-edited videos depicting what happened within a week of an officer shooting someone — but didn't for this incident. Initially, police said the records shouldn’t be disclosed because there was an active investigation and the woman police shot was being charged.

Loy said that argument doesn't justify withholding the video for two years.

“I hope the city and the police department in particular will take the lesson from this case, that they are subject to the California Public Records Act, the same as any other agency,“ he said.

San Diego Police spokesman Lt. Adam Sharki said in an emailed statement that the department “releases or withholds all records in compliance with the current laws and mandates.”

The shooting happened just before 10 p.m. on May 23, 2020 — two days before George Floyd was killed. The videos show 26-year-old Rosa Calva having a mental breakdown, breaking glass and throwing things onto the street from her fourth floor East Village apartment.

Police responded, got a key to her apartment, and went inside. Calva, armed with a steak knife, barricaded herself in the bathroom. Police then used a sledge hammer to break a hole into the bathroom door, and used pepper balls and a police dog to try to get her out.

Then they broke down the bathroom door. Officer Andres Ruiz told San Diego police internal affairs he thought he saw Calva swing her knife at another officer, and he shot her. It turned out he was wrong, according to the police internal affairs report.

Ruiz has also fired on suspects three other times, according to police records. He was cleared of those shootings by the District Attorney, as well as for shooting Calva.

In his statement, Sharki said while the shooting was justified, “the department continues to review the tactics and actions of the officer to determine if there are learning points which can be incorporated into training going forward.”

Loy, with the First Amendment Coalition, said the shooting does not appear to show that police employed de-escalation tactics.

”I think the question that the public has a right to know is why didn't the officers slow down, take their time, call crisis negotiators, and de-escalate the situation instead of aggravating the situation by bringing in police dogs, firing pepper balls, breaking open the bathroom door,” he said. ”Those do not seem like actions calculated to de-escalate a situation to calm a person who's clearly experiencing a significant mental-health episode.”

Loy hopes this case will set a precedent going forward, so that other records will be promptly released.

KPBS has analyzed documents relating to 148 San Diego Police Department cases between 2005 and 2019 in which officers used force that led to significant injuries or death, and found nearly 69% of the use-of-force incidents occurred south of Interstate 8, and 25% were in Southeast San Diego.

These cases were made public under SB 1421, a law passed in 2018 that mandated more police transparency regarding their investigations of use-of-force incidents. But the San Diego Police Department has not released records from six other cases, citing ongoing criminal trials.