L.A. Newspaper Sues Sheriff's Department Over Its Repeated Refusal To Comply With The Law
from the law-ignorement-officers dept
Very few California law enforcement agencies welcomed a new state law that finally lifted the ordained opacity that shielded misbehaving cops from the public’s scrutiny. The law that went into effect at the beginning of 2019 gave California residents access to records dealing with misconduct, use-of-force, and other “bad apple” behavior for the first time in decades.
State law enforcement agencies responded to the new transparency by obfuscating, stonewalling, and suing. The smartest agencies destroyed records with their cities’ blessing before the public could get to them. The state’s top cop even claimed the law did not affect records created before the law went into effect, directly contradicting the legislation’s author. Public records requesters sued back, knowing they were in the right. After all, not a single court in the state has aligned itself with law enforcement’s fervent belief it should never be accountable ever, no matter what laws are on the books.
The Los Angeles Times is suing the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for refusing to follow the new law. But who could blame the gang-infested LASD for being evasive, what with its unusually large number of reasons to keep the public in the dark about its activities?
Eighteen months after making a very detailed request for information about misbehaving officers, the LA Times is asking a court to benchslap the Sheriff’s Department around a bit. As additional leverage, the Times is quoting the law, which makes compliance mandatory, rather than something whose nuances should be sorted out in front of a neutral party.
A county spokeswoman… said in a statement that L.A. County is “committed to fulfilling its responsibilities” under the California Public Records Act.
is it tho?
[T]the Sheriff’s Department denied The Times’ first and second CPRA requests for electronic records and letters of discipline, claiming that The Times’ requests were overbroad. LASD claimed that it was “unable to assist … with your request as it is too broad in scope” and that The Times had not made requests that “reasonably describe the identifiable record or records.” The Sheriff’s Department claimed that The Times would have to identify specific names to obtain SB 1421 records, even though SB 1421 has no such requirement and the names of deputies disciplined were not public before the Legislature enacted SB 1421.
First, the LASD demanded the LA Times request records using officers’ names — information that had been unavailable for years until this law was passed. Then it decided to keep playing hard to get even after the newspaper came up with the names the law didn’t say it had to have in its possession to request these records.
While Cmdr. Scott Johnson of the Sheriff’s Department stated on April 5 and 8, 2019, in communications by phone and email, that the Sheriff’s Department would provide records on a rolling basis regarding the 325 named individuals, the County has failed to provide responsive information on more than 300 of them even though more than 18 months have passed since SB 1421 went into effect.
Out of the 325 officers’ records requested, the LASD has only bothered responding with info on nine of them. And, despite claims that a shortage of manpower was keeping them from complying with the new law, the department had time to shower the LA Times with tons of bullshit-laden digital paper.
On February 6, 2020, the Sheriff’s Department sent several hundred identical emails claiming that “stays … prohibited the Department from releasing records until they were lifted,” even though the stays had been lifted eleven months earlier.
After screwing around for another couple of months with supposedly limited resources, the LASD asked the Times if it really wanted the records it had spent most of 18 months asking for. The answer is this lawsuit.
For a few more months, the LA Times continued to request more records. And the LASD continued to claim it was “gathering” records while failing to produce any evidence of this “gathering” or, indeed, the records themselves. And so the narrative continues for several more pages, part of the Times’ 155-page lawsuit.
But, hey, taxpayers: this is all fine. The LASD doesn’t just blow off newspapers and their public records requests. It’s also sticking it to The Man!
L.A. County’s chief law enforcement watchdog, the Office of Inspector General, also sought documents — through a subpoena — related to allegations that Villanueva directed the coverup. The Sheriff’s Department did not comply.
God bless the boys in whatever-the-fuck-color they’re wearing now, who are willing to spend our tax dollars thwarting the oversight we’re paying for and ignoring the laws we want them to comply with.