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.