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.

Before we get into the LA Times' lawsuit [PDF], let's just warm up with a statement from the LASD:

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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: bad apple, california, lasd, police misconduct, records, transparency
Companies: la times

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Jul 2020 @ 5:49am


    It would still be a worthwhile action though both so that at least the taxpayers are no longer paying them to abuse the public and because if they were still rolling in cash after public funding had been gutted then it would raise the question of where exactly that money was coming from, and if defunding didn't work there's always firing the lot of them and starting from scratch.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.