Another California City Allowed Police To Destroy Misconduct Records Ahead Of New Transparency Law

from the thanks-for-the-help,-assholes dept

California law enforcement agencies knew the reckoning was coming. A new law took effect at the beginning of this year, opening up records of police misconduct and use of force to the public for the first time. Some decided to engage in preemptive legal challenges. Some quietly complied. Some decided to ignore the law’s author and pretend it didn’t apply to any record created before 2019.

A couple of law enforcement agencies got really proactive and just started destroying records before the public could get its hands on them. The Inglewood PD got the green light from the city government to destroy hundreds of records subject to the new transparency law. The city and the PD claimed this was just regular, periodic housecleaning. But the timing seemed ultra-suspicious, given that it happened only days before the law took effect. Not that it matters. The records are gone and all the bad press in the world isn’t going to bring them back.

KQED brings us some more bad press targeting a police department. And, again, it’s not going to unshred the destroyed records. But it is important to call out the hugely disingenuous actions of the Fremont Police Department, which chose to greet the impending transparency with a final blast of opacity.

Last year, while state lawmakers were considering a landmark bill to open up previously confidential police misconduct records to the public, the city of Fremont quietly destroyed a large archive of papers, cassettes and computer files documenting over four decades of internal affairs investigations and citizen complaints. It is not known if the destroyed records covered officer-involved shootings.

Last fall, Fremont’s City Council also changed the Police Department’s records retention policy, reducing the amount of time that investigative files of officer-involved shootings must be saved from 25 years to 10.

Proving this resistance to transparency is not just a Fremont PD thing, the city has refused to comment on its approval of this bullshit move. The purge began almost as soon as the law was passed. The bill headed for the governor’s desk last August. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in September. As soon as it became clear the bill had a good chance of becoming law, the Fremont PD began destroying years of misconduct records it apparently felt were worth retaining right up until the point the public had a chance to obtain them.

Between June and December 2018, Fremont destroyed six batches of records covering investigations of police misconduct, citizen complaints and disciplinary files spanning 1971 to 2016.

KQED discovered this mass memory-holing by filing a public records request for the list of documents considered responsive to requests under the new law. The long list of destroyed files includes records of two-year investigation that resulted in eleven orders to impose discipline on a single officer and 32 years of Internal Affairs files. It also includes 12 years of files related to officer-involved shootings.

And it did this all with the city’s help. Last year, the council granted the police department’s request to change its retention guidelines, ensuring that fewer documents will be retained and, eventually, handed over to the public.

It’s one thing when a police department acts in its own self-interest by purging records that make it look less than stellar. It’s quite another when a city government helps the PD fuck the public out of what now rightfully belongs to them.

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Comments on “Another California City Allowed Police To Destroy Misconduct Records Ahead Of New Transparency Law”

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33 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Time to apply court standards for destroyed evidence...

… and assume that everyone in the department, top to bottom, is rotten and corrupt to the core, with the destroyed evidence containing nothing but damning information that would have proven that beyond a doubt. Likewise with the city council, every last one of them should be assumed to be, and treated as, completely corrupt and uninterested in serving the public, and thereby worthy of their job(or any job that involves serving the public).

If actions like this do have one upside it’s that it allows people in the state to see which departments are just moderately corrupt, and which ones are corrupt beyond saving and need to be fired and replaced wholesale(or if that’s not possible, seen and treated as yet another dangerous gang, something to avoid if at all possible).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Time to apply court standards for destroyed evidence...

I would also request document that they are required to have kept and when they refuse to turn them over, sue them for whatever the maximum you can get away with. They will have to pay it since they ignored the legal need to hold onto that data. I would love to get access to their computer systems and see what we could retrieve from their drives.

Bluehills (profile) says:

Re: Re: Time to apply court standards for destroyed evidence...

There is no indication documents were illegally destroyed. The timelines in the story suggest they are maintaining them for the minimum time required by California law. There is no actionable duty to maintain them for a longer time except as to those specific files meeting litigation hold or destruction of evidence criteria.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Like a billion $ bouncy-ball, no-one's buying that.

Last year, while state lawmakers were considering a landmark bill to open up previously confidential police misconduct records to the public, the city of Fremont quietly destroyed a large archive of papers, cassettes and computer files documenting over four decades of internal affairs investigations and citizen complaints. It is not known if the destroyed records covered officer-involved shootings.

Four decades. They had no problem keeping records going back forty years before a a law was considered that would allow the public access, so don’t even try to pretend that this was just ‘routine destruction of obsolete records’, because you(and they) aren’t fooling anyone.

That it may not technically be illegal(I suspect that if anyone without a badge did anything similar they’d have investigation/prosecutors calling for their head) doesn’t make the intent behind destroying the records any less blatantly obvious, and it has nothing to do with just clearing away old records to make space.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Like a billion $ bouncy-ball, no-one's buying that.

Hence the second part of my comment, pointing out that while it may not be illegal to destroy the records, it sure is hell is telling of trying to hide damning evidence.

The timelines in the story suggest they are maintaining them for the minimum time required by California law.

And this was the confusing line in your comment that led me to assume you were supporting them, because it’s not only not true(unless california ‘just so happens’ to have a forty-year records-keeping law that ‘just so happened’ to lapse at just the right/wrong time…), but certainly reads like a defense of what they were doing as spinning it as just routine records destruction rather than deliberate obstruction of possible requests from the public. If that’s not what you intended though, will just chalk it up to a bit of confusion.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Like a billion $ bouncy-ball, no-one's buying that.

Don’t overlook the math there.

They applied to have the retention period lowered to 10 years from the original 25 years.

Then shredded FORTY years of records.

Which means they over-held some records for 15 years longer than originally required at a minimum – it’s not clear if the four decades of records referred to the past forty years or forty years prior to the 25 or 10 year retention periods. They may still have had records from 65 years back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Like a billion $ bouncy-ball, no-one's buying that.

That it may not technically be illegal… doesn’t make the intent behind destroying the records any less blatantly obvious

When were cops ever known for subtlety? They’ll ask lawmakers to make it illegal to wear masks in public, then cover up their faces and assault protesters… in front of hundreds of cops who somehow never arrest them.

It’s not technically illegal for us to lay cops off when they haven’t technically broken any law. We could say they’re all shitcanned for poor customer service, if we had the political will. Of course, there’s a second part of that plan I’ve yet to figure out.

Glenn says:

I guess the only thing wrong with the new law is that it didn’t impose criminal penalties for the destruction of public records.

The second biggest thing wrong with bad cops is that [supposedly] good cops try to protect the bad ones from fair and just legal prosecution, which simply makes those "good" cops actually bad cops, too. (You’re known by the company you keep.)

There’s another word for "bad cop". That word is "criminal".

Whoever says:

Freomnt, CA: claims transparency, but

Here is a killing from just 2 years ago, in which officers broke department policies, resulting in the death of an innocent person, yet there are "no records which are not exempt from disclosure as public records".

https://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2019/01/11/fremont-withholds-records-of-fatal-police-shooting-of-pregnant-teenager-despite-new-transparency-laws

Meanwhile, in other news, Fremont police claim to be transparent:
https://www.fremontpolice.org/index.aspx?nid=414

Bluehills (profile) says:

Re: Freomnt, CA: claims transparency, but

The city’s response is problematic for a number of reasons. It gives the litigation exemption a much broader reading than case law allows. It also fails to identify the specific exemptions relied on as to each request. If there is a statutory basis for delay, it doesn’t provide the specific information required to invoke the delay. It doesn’t look like the requesterfiled an enforcement action.

Bluehills (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Freomnt, CA: claims transparency, but

It is a subject of interest because I represent parties who litigate on both sides, and also use requests in other types of litigation. I am not giving any opinion as to whether the destruction is moral or ethical. The relevant issue to me is whether it is legal or not. The same as to whether withholding records created before 2019 is legal. Generally the agencies I deal with take the position that withholding such records is not permitted, and I agree with their legal analysis.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Freomnt, CA: claims transparency, but

"It is a subject of interest because I represent parties who litigate on both sides…"

Since a lobbyist would not represent both sides, should we assume you are a lawyer? If so, could we have your opinion, as a lawyer, as to whether it is legal to destroy records that might become part of a future litigation, as well as who it is that decides whether some record might or might not be part of a future litigation, under California law of course? Are there any other statute of limitations that might be impacted? I am not seeking actual legal advice, just an opinion.

While you might not be concerned with whether a destruction of potential evidence is moral or ethical, for the purpose of the discussion here, we are.

Bluehills (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Freomnt, CA: claims transparency, but

Generally it is the holder of any record who decides whether to retain or destroy any record, subject to the applicable laws dealing generally with recordretention or potential evidence. Legal standards vary, but generally there is no obligation to retain documents as potential evidence unless you are on notice that the record may be needed as evidence in some reasonably anticipated litigation in the absence of a law requiring retention of the specific type of record. In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury or wrongful death is generally two years so civil litigation would not generally be anticipated after that. If a court or prosecutor decides the holder violated a legal duty under the specific facts then it may award sanctions or instigate criminal proceedings.

In my view, the legal answer to records being destroyed too quickly is through legislative determination of the minimum retention period as the effect is the same whether they are regularly purged to save storage costs or purged to avoid public scrutiny.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Reforming law enforcement

It’s pretty evident the corruption and antagonism against the public is epidemic. We won’t be able to reform law enforcement.

We’re going to have to replace the whole system. If we can demonstrate to a tribunal that the policies of law enforcement against the public were systemic and pervasive, that might be enough to charge everyone involved with crimes against humanity.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And every defense lawyer danced a jig…

We can not be sure if this evidence was correctly gathered by upstanding people… the PD decided to destroy all the records of complaints against the officers rather than allow us an opportunity to see if this officer testifying has ever been reprimanded for violating chain of evidence, beating on citizens, or any other reporting.
What were they trying to hide?

They want you to trust and believe them, but then destroy all the records trying to hide reports & outcomes. Does that sound like the actions of innocent public servants charged with protecting and serving or like a gang member trying to hide his history of arrests & misconduct??

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Juries and judges love law enforcement officers...

…and they hate suspects.

It takes video of police officers doing something grotesque and despicable to turn a court on them, and even then one guy will hang the jury out of principle (of respect for authority at all costs, I assume.)

The reason we see police making such awful cases in the courts is because most of the time that is all that is necessary to lock someone into prison for decades and seize all their stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are records destroyed that relate to the 1983 Kellie Jean Poppleton Murder, which has never been solved. How about Sheri Muhleman who, in 1989, went missing from Decoto Rd, a few blocks away from where Kellie was last seen? She’s never been found.. In 1987 when I was 14 yrs old the same man attacked me (pc220F, pc236F) literally across the street from where Kellie was taken. I went to find the records to get closure but wow they were destroyed. There was a trial & a verdict in my case, though. He was found innocent by reason of insanity. And released. Seriously. Who is protecting us? I was recently told he was an informant, but i don’t know. Why would a murder suspect & pedophile be protected? Why these records destroyed?

poppydanielle@gmail.com (profile) says:

Re: Fremont records destroyed cover up pedo murderer set free

I’ve tried to get any scrap of info from my case but have been given conflicting excuses as to why the records are unavailable. I’ve been told everything.. he’s in witness protection, he’s dead, there’s microfilm but I can’t find it, it’s been destroyed, you’re not authorized to view the record, the trial record does not exist, because the victim was a juvenile, the record is sealed, even though you were the victim.. Recently I discovered that the records I’m looking for are likely included in a 2015 Alameda County Oakland Superior Court Records Destruction / ‘The Riders’ Police Corruption Scandle and may truly not exist anymore. Grrrr.. I was the victim in the case for which I’m requesting records. The man who attacked me was the prime suspect in the unsolved murder of Kellie Jean Poppleton. Can they destroy records that are part of a cold case investigation? There was a lot of controvery about the manner of investigation, confusion about which agency.was the lead, evidence lost.. The suspect is rumored to have gotten away with his crimes because he was a snitch. He was acquainted with some Oakland cops who were called "The Riders". I’m trying to find out why (serial rapist, pedophile, drug dealer, murder suspect) Julian Ramirez was and still is being protected by Alameda County. Now, for some reason, the Fremont Police Cold Case Dept. Official Webpage has deleted Kellie Poppleton from the list of cold cases they are working on. Despicable. I was 14 when I escaped a terrifying assault on the very spot where Kellie Jean Poppleton, also 14, was murdered 2 years earlier. After he was found
《《 innocent by reason of insanity 》》and acquitted for the kidnapping & sexual assault I was the victim of, they again released him. Less than 3 months later, Sheri Muhleman disappears from her boyfriend’s house (3 blocks away from where Kellie was abducted & I was attacked). Coincidentally, her boyfriend was a jailhouse acquaintance of the very same Julian Ramirez. Friends claim that Sheri, her boyfriend and Ramirez had used drugs together on at least 3 occasions. I don’t work in law enforcement, but aren’t those circumstances suspicious enough for the "Do Not Destroy Yet" list? I’m not sure what to do next, but I feel compelled to keep searching for an answer that makes sense. It’s so discouraging to be victimized by those you count on for protection. I welcome any ideas you have about getting this info!
Cheers, Poppy

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