Police Misconduct Records Show California Police Officer Busting Sober Drivers For DUI

from the delayed-transparency dept

Not every law enforcement agency is refusing to comply with California’s new transparency law. Effective January 1st, the law makes police misconduct and use of force records accessible to the public for the first time in the state’s history.

The state’s attorney general isn’t happy. Neither are many of the state’s law enforcement agencies. And the state’s law enforcement unions are definitely opposed to the new transparency, not to mention the law’s apparently retroactive reach. But while the unions are busy trying to keep the law from exposing historical misconduct records, some law enforcement agencies are quietly complying with both the letter and the intent of the law.

The Modesto Bee is one of the first beneficiaries of the new law. It has obtained misconduct records dating back to 2003 from the Modesto Police Department. The details contained in these are exactly the reason law enforcement unions are fighting so hard to keep these records out of the public’s hands.

The Modesto Police Department since 2013 has fired five police officers who it claimed were dishonest, including one who allegedly made false reports in DUI arrests to another who allegedly defrauded the federal government out of nearly $10,000.


Modesto police also released records related to 52 instances dating to 2003 in which officers discharged firearms at someone or their use of force resulted in death or great bodily injury.

Oddly, the use of force records the Modesto PD had on hand have been retained long past the five-year destruction period — something that suggests the PD sees some value in keeping these files intact. (This is bound to piss off the union representing MPD officers, though. Expect some sort of public condemnation, if not an actual lawsuit, from the union in the near future.)

The documents detail the sort of thing we’ve become accustomed to seeing in police departments: mainly, a lot of dishonesty. There are reports of an officer lying about a rape investigation, an officer covering up damage he caused to his squad car by failing to put it in park before exiting his vehicle, and another officer taking home nearly $10,000 in housing stipends by falsely claiming he lived in a more expensive neighborhood.

But probably the most egregious misconduct uncovered was engaged in by an officer who had received commendations and public praise by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his DUI enforcement efforts. But the numbers he was racking up were too good to be true.

[The] problems included the officer’s body camera footage not supporting what he wrote in his reports, including writing that he observed signs of intoxication when none was present on the footage, and relying on an “odor of alcohol” for conducting field sobriety tests, but the suspects’ blood alcohol levels turned out to 0.00 percent. Internal affairs concluded the officer’s conduct was “often rude, belittling, abrupt and arrogant.”

The officer “stopped drivers without reasonable suspicion, based on nothing more than the fact they were leaving the parking lot of a bar. He mocked the drivers he pulled over, … recorded evidence of impairment that did not objectively exist, and arrested them without probable cause.

Unfortunately, the report chalks all this up to the officer’s “zeal” and refers to his repeated violations of drivers’ rights as “a lack of fairness.” Yeah, that’s pretty much just exonerating with faint damnation. In reality, this was an abuse of the officer’s power — power granted to him by the citizens he’s not supposed to be ringing up on bogus DUI charges.

This is just the tip of California law enforcement’s ugly iceberg. What’s seen here isn’t some sort of anomaly. Every department has plenty of dirty laundry. They just can’t keep it buried in the back of the closet anymore.

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Comments on “Police Misconduct Records Show California Police Officer Busting Sober Drivers For DUI”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It's gonna get ugly

"They just can’t keep it buried in the back of the closet anymore."

That assumes they don’t destroy ‘it’ (aka them) ‘accidentally’ first. I wonder how many accidents can be imagined…um…how many law enforcement agencies exist in California? That might answer that question. What is the penalty for the destruction of required records? Right…taxpayers pay the fines and the perpetrators get off scott-free.

Then if records actually make it into the public purview they will be used to:

1: Denigrate, though properly, officers testimony in court

2: Generate lawsuits against departments and individual officers where there now exists evidence that was not available in the past. If the departments lose, the taxpayers get dinged again. If the officer looses, some justice might occur, but they don’t have any kind of what is considered deep pockets, and might just quit and go work for a different force. That might not absolve them of any judgement, but it might make it more difficult to collect.

3: Make law enforcement agencies much more careful about what they write down at all times. We know that they are required to record certain things (which might vary department to department, but state record keeping laws apply to all) so if it isn’t in writing, then it isn’t. Then someone might accuse someone of misconduct in the future and the department will look and legitimately say ‘we have no record of that’ because they just discussed it and never wrote it down. Oh, and those video recordings from individual officers and dash cams? There will be massive, and ongoing, and un-correctable issues with their various retention and backup schemes.

4: ETC.

Adelanto says:

Re: NOT gonna get ugly

yawn. nothing will change.

dishonesty and corruption are inherent aspects of government police operations. The practical incentives promote it.

It has been documented for over a century.
Elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and most lawyers don’t see it as any big problem … and have consistently failed to even moderately reduce it.

Police Chiefs and police supervisoprs see this stuff first hand every day — and either ignore it or cover it up.

Sure there are some honest cops — but almost all look the other way and adhere to the Blue Wall of Silence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: NOT gonna get ugly

Dishonesty and corruption are human nature, there is no way around it. Encouragement of bad traits is not good for anyone longterm, but the short term gains are hard to resist. The fact that is has always been this way is not a good reason to do nothing. Now, what might that something be?

Adelanto says:

Re: Re: Re: NOT gonna get ugly

@@@ "Now, what might that something be?"

… there are many possible actions to theoretically control police conduct — but first you must get honest & diligent elected officials running the government.

… good luck on that — getting honest politicians is much much tougher than getting honest cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: NOT gonna get ugly

Cops are just people. Many go into law enforcement because they have a military background and don’t know what to do with themselves when they get out of the military; They bring that mindset to policing. Others go into law enforcement because it’s a job that requires minimal training, the equivalent of less than 2 terms of college, and pays better than being a stockboy at a grocery store. But not much better.

They’re given mediocre pay, bad schedules, weapons, too much power and a lot of boredom. It’s a recipe for disaster and a meal we’ve eaten way too many times. More openness and public oversight is probably the only thing that might help bring them back under control.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Records? What records?'

Unfortunately, the report chalks all this up to the officer’s "zeal" and refers to his repeated violations of drivers’ rights as "a lack of fairness."

‘Sure he broke the law, harassed innocent people, even arresting them, but you gotta love that go-getter attitude he had for abusing his power!’

Yeah, that’s pretty much just exonerating with faint damnation.

Uh, no, that’s not ‘pretty much’ exonerating him, that’s seeing what he did and praising it, with not even a slap on the wrist.

Every department has plenty of dirty laundry. They just can’t keep it buried in the back of the closet anymore.

They can however stonewall requests for it, or if that fails simply destroy it before it can be made public.

Anonymous Coward says:

"including writing that he observed signs of intoxication when none was present on the footage, and relying on an “odor of alcohol” for conducting field sobriety tests,"

Must’ve been a graduate from the school of impairment detection, they can tell when you are impaired without the use of instrumentation.
lol … sure they can

TripMN says:

Re: Re: field sobriety tests

Have you ever been downwind of a brewery? They do not smell like beer whatsoever. The smell is of grain and hops, but not beer.

So saying that someone smells like beer because they are downwind of a brewery makes about as much sense as saying they smell like cheese because they are downwind of a cow pasture.

Bobvious says:

Re: Re: Re: field sobriety tests

Downwind many times. The issue is not what the brewery ACTUALLY smells like, but that the use of "instrumentation" is not required to detect "inebriation", even through a closed window and at a great distance. Scientists just haven’t yet made a device that can measure alcohol in the bloodstream as accurately as human gutfeelings, especially those that are honed to perfection at the Police Academy.

Remember also, driving too correctly is a sign of impairment, as is not driving correctly at all.

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