Second California Court Tells State AG To Stop Screwing Around And Release Police Misconduct Records

from the wasting-taxpayer-dollars-for-fun-and-opacity dept

A California appeals court has just handed Attorney General Xavier Becerra a second defeat in his quest to keep police misconduct records out of the public’s hands.

Becerra first stepped up to defend bad cops from transparency and accountability shortly after a new law went live, giving Californians access to police misconduct and use of force records for the first time ever. Becerra claimed (without legal support) the law was not retroactive, an assertion contradicted by the crafter of the bill.

No courts agreed with this contention, even when it was made by police unions and department public records reps. The law applies to all misconduct records, not just those created after the law’s enactment. Some departments saw this coming and purged older records prior to enactment. Others complied quietly. A few sued to block enforcement of the law.

Xavier Becerra made the dubious legal assertion the state’s Department of Justice didn’t need to turn over records because it wasn’t the original source. He made this assertion despite the DOJ being the agency that routinely investigates misconduct and use of force complaints, which means the DOJ should have plenty of responsive records on hand.

The First Amendment Coalition and public media outlet KQED sued after Becerra refused to turn over records. Becerra asked the appeals court to tell him he was right to refuse to comply with the law. The appeals court says that’s not the way the law works. The state DOJ holds records on police misconduct and the public can directly approach the DOJ for these records, rather than filing requests with numerous different agencies. (via Courthouse News)

The ruling confirms the lower court’s determination: if the DOJ has these records, the DOJ needs to turn them over. From the decision [PDF]:

In this case, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Department of Justice (collectively, the Department) have filed a petition for a writ of mandate seeking to overturn the trial court’s order in favor of First Amendment Coalition and KQED, Inc. (KQED) over two aspects of the Department’s disclosure obligations under section 832.7. We conclude, as a matter of statutory interpretation, that section 832.7 generally requires disclosure of all responsive records in the possession of the Department, regardless whether the records pertain to officers employed by the Department or by another public agency and regardless whether the Department or another public agency created the records.

The court says the law’s wording makes it clear any agency holding records is obligated to release them — not just the agency where the records may have originated.

[T]he Department’s construction is at odds with the CPRA, which provides in no uncertain terms that, barring an applicable exemption, a member of the public has the right to inspect any nonexempt “public records,” defined as “any writing” containing information relating to the public’s business that is “retained by” a state or local agency.

Clear, unambiguous language in the law. Clear, unambiguous language from the court. And yet…

The Attorney General’s press office said in an email that the Justice Department is reviewing the decision.

Come on, man. Being willfully ignorant of the law is no excuse. Appealing this decision further just wastes time and the public’s tax dollars. Turn over the records, you coward.

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Comments on “Second California Court Tells State AG To Stop Screwing Around And Release Police Misconduct Records”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

State AG to court: '... nah.'

Appealing this decision further just wastes time and the public’s tax dollars

That, and provides even more time for records to be ‘lost’, ‘destroyed as too old’ and/or withheld long enough for any potential statute of limitations that might apply to run out.

Assuming it’s just cowardice is likely a mistake, as I imagine a good chunk of the motivation is corruption, wanting to keep damning records(and what they would show regarding police ‘oversight’) out of the public’s hands as long as possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear Tim

Whilst not always a fan of your articles, though I do enjoy many of them, you have out done yourself with your final paragraph on this one.

And, what a finish:

Turn over the records, you coward.

But, what these cases really show is that the AG is not working for the general public, he is working for the police union. This is understandable as he has to work with police officers all the time.

However, I think you are right. That’s enough. I imagine that the Cal supreme court would just refuse to hear the case as the appeals court ruling says all that they would want to say.

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