California Law Enforcement Union Sues To Block Police Accountability

from the we'll-take-the-power...-hold-the-responsibility dept

Because there’s just not enough opacity shrouding police misconduct and not enough slanting of the criminal justice system against defendants, California police unions have decided to get involved in a judicial dispute over lists of law enforcement officers whose half of “our word against yours” isn’t quite as bulletproof as is normally assumed.

A Los Angeles sheriff is trying to do the right thing, but he’s running into opposition from his own supposed “representatives.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has collected the names of about 300 deputies who have a history of past misconduct — such as domestic violence, theft, bribery and brutality — that could damage their credibility if they testify in court.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to send the names to prosecutors, who can decide whether to add them to an internal database that tracks problem officers in case the information needs to be disclosed to defendants in criminal trials.

I don’t imagine prosecutors are exactly thrilled to be the recipient of information that damages the credibility of their favorite witnesses, but it’s probably better than having your witness destroyed in open court by a defense attorney. But prosecutors may never see this information, thanks to the police union’s belief that officers shouldn’t be held accountable for anything.

The union that represents rank-and-file deputies strongly opposes providing the names to prosecutors and has taken the department to court. The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs argues that the disclosure would violate state laws protecting officer personnel files and draw unfair scrutiny on deputies whose mistakes might have happened long ago.

The union is wrong. Officers’ misconduct records are a crucial part of their trustworthiness. Burying these just makes the union look like a willing enabler of bad behavior. There would be no “unfair scrutiny” of deputies. Judges and juries are perfectly capable of determining whether past misconduct is relevant to the case at hand. The union’s lawsuit seeks to place the determination of officers’ credibility solely in the union’s hands. And in its hands, all officers are credible until proven otherwise — something that will be almost impossible to do with exactly zero information on hand.

The union’s move is a preemptive Brady violation. Brady material is exculpatory evidence and information prosecutors are statutorily required to turn over to the defense. That would include misconduct records, which might point to a testifying officer’s lack of credibility, or show a pattern of relevant misconduct. These files would not be made public, which undercuts the union’s “privacy violation” claims. True, some of the files’ contents would be made public during court proceedings, but it’s not as though the sheriff is asking the DA’s office to post the contents of the list on its website.

The union wants law enforcement officers to have more rights than the people they serve. The body of a person killed by an officer hasn’t even begun to cool before department press liaisons are pushing the dead person’s criminal background check results into the hands of every reporter covering the incident. No one expresses any privacy concerns when a 20-year-old arrest is used to alter the public’s perception of a police shooting victim. But when it comes to cops themselves — public servants with immense power, layers of immunity, and publicly-funded opacity that separates them from the consequences of their actions — privacy is of utmost concern.

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Comments on “California Law Enforcement Union Sues To Block Police Accountability”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Sue the union trend set in motion.

This might be a good thing, in a certain way. It could make the union liable for law suits if they don’t disclose the dirtiness cops testifying, who are then found to be committing perjury. The discovery in that suit would be a real bitch.

If the union gets to make the decision to not release relevant information, it would not only be a Brady violation, as mentioned in the article, but it could open their very deep pockets up to victims and their lawyers in a way the membership really won’t like.

On the whole, and since I despise public employee unions, it would be better to give the list to the DA. Better still would be to give the list to all the defense lawyers, which would be nearly the same as making it public, which isn’t such a bad idea. They are employees of the public, after all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sue the union trend set in motion.

“On the whole, and since I despise public employee unions, …”

Why? That’s an a-hole way to think. Why shouldn’t any employee, regardless of employer, have the right to be represented by a union? Because those sort of unions have been invariably ass-holic in the past? Not good enough. That attitude’s not going to inspire them to do better.

“… deputies who have a history of past misconduct — such as domestic violence, theft, bribery and brutality …”

Geez, who wouldn’t want (alleged) dirtbags like that pleading your case in court? That list ought to be posted to the news media, open access, by law!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sue the union trend set in motion.

While public employees should be fairly paid and treated, their relationship with their employers, even the jobs they perform, are different than those in the private sector. Holding a company hostage via strikes is different than holding a municipality, or a county, or a state, or the whole of a country hostage is significantly different than holding a company hostage via a strike.

It is bad enough that our current system allows for special interest groups to bribe/contribute to political candidates in order to get their agenda, even if that agenda is not in the best interest of the electorate, enacted/prosecuted against the will of the people. Letting them have a second bite at the apple is much too much. Public employees should be held to a higher standard than private employees, especially since their purview is to perform their duties in the name of the people, rather than in pursuit of the almighty dollar (or other form of money).

Do they need to be altruistic? Not necessarily. There should be good career paths in government work. But there should be no methodology for withholding the services they were hired to perform, from the people. Don’t like your job conditions, find another job. Go private sector if striking gets you stoked.

As far as other unions, I think they had a purpose, an especially important purpose, in the past. These days they seem to be about making union executives rich and powerful, as well as feeling superior when they throw their political clout around, often to satisfy needs not related to the unions original purpose.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Re: Re: Sue the union trend set in motion.

I don’t know about holding a municipality hostage. I work for a municipality that endured a 101 day strike by unionized workers (I’m non-union) and the result of that strike was the contracting out of garbage and recycling pickup and parking enforcement and the elimination of municipal day care services and post-retirement benefits for new hires and other changes to the collective agreement.

sorrykb (profile) says:

"Mistakes"

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs argues that the disclosure would violate state laws protecting officer personnel files and draw unfair scrutiny on deputies whose mistakes might have happened long ago.

"Mistakes" made by these deputies include "domestic violence, theft, bribery and brutality".

Because who hasn’t slipped up and totally accidentally brutalized someone. oops!

sorrykb (profile) says:

Keep in mind

Remember that this particular controversy is about allowing prosecutors access to a list of “problem officers” so that they don’t have to rely on their testimony in court.

It has nothing to do with ridding the sheriff department of deputies who have a record of domestic violence, brutality, theft, falsifying reports, etc. Nope, their jobs are entirely safe, regardless of how this lawsuit turns out.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: California Law Enforcement Union Seeks To Bring Order Back To Its Rightful Place

Police don’t go after pirates, they are the purview of the Coast Guard and the Navy.

You seem to be saying that cops with disciplinary problems make for tighter enforcement. The article, which was not written by Mr. Masnick (highlighting your MOST EXCELLENT reading skillz) is about the rule of law and those rules that make the law work. Like telling the defense about issues with the reliability of witnesses for the prosecution. As the Brady rule requires. Which makes law enforcement more about feelz than facts. Like your writing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: California Law Enforcement Union Seeks To Bring Order Back To Its Rightful Place

“about the rule of law and those rules that make the law work.”

For all their chest pounding about “the rule of law” I do not see them following it when it does not serve their wants and desires, they only drag it out for those times when it does. They are now attempting to remove the rule of law from impeding their goose stepping toward fascism.

Pro Tip: You can not just whip it out when ever you want, that’s not how it works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mistakes might have happened long ago

I think there is something to that. People can and do change. But if that mistake will be held against you for the rest of your life you have less incentive to change.

It is also a two way street. If police would like the negative repercussions of their mistakes to fade over time they need to give that same benefit to citizens too.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Impossibly high standards, what do you think they are, members of the public?

Balderdash, who hasn’t accidentally bribed someone and/or smashed someone’s teeth in?

I mean we’re not talking about serious crimes like copyright infringement here, I’m sure that after a stern talking to they learned their lesson, no need to go overboard and impose some sort of punishment for what really amounts to harmless pranks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Impossibly high standards, what do you think they are, members of the public?

“… who hasn’t accidentally bribed someone and/or smashed someone’s teeth in?” It’s a bit shocking/astonishing that that can be said jokenly. We, out here in the hinterlands, still think of Mayberry style policing, while the reality is citizens == “likely domestic insurgents; send SWAT!”

Watching a cop walk down a line of handcuffed “Occupy” protesters while spraying mace in their faces was highly alluminating.

This’s one shitty century.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Mistakes might have happened long ago

“But if that mistake will be held against you for the rest of your life you have less incentive to change.”

Funny, that. Where I live, most renters insist on a criminal records check before they’ll rent their place to you. Threaten to beat your spouse forty years ago? You get to live in a homeless shelter.

Police databases never forget the least of your (our?) transgressions. Police unions are demanding that kind of thing shouldn’t apply to their members.

They’re special. Why they deserve such consideration is beyond me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That facade will eventually fade into the sunset, because why bother with acting like you give a shit when you no longer have to. Riding rough shot over the proles is fun and exciting activity that one can share with their entire entourage. Just imagine the entertainment value, how could anyone see this as being negative?

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Something wrong here...

Maybe McDonnell is grandstanding? How did the Union find out before the fact that he even had a list, much less that he was going to supply it to the DA?

Things like this usually crop up when the group (Union, in this case) first gets this stuff USED against them. Then they’ll backtrack it.

McDonnell’s name showing up in this shows premeditation. He’s making a stink and getting his name out there, now he’ll be seen as the paladin fighting the evil Union – and that list won’t ever be released now, so he wins no matter what.

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