East County News Service
March 4, 2019 (San Diego) -- Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon sided with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) and several San Diego news media outlets, ruling on March 1st that local law enforcement agencies must comply with a new state public records law, SB 1421, and disclose relevant records regardless of when they were created.
Last month, the ACLUF-SDIC filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit by several police unions that had sought to prevent the release of police misconduct records as required by the state’s new law, the “California Public Records Act” (SB 1421). The ACLU demanded that local law enforcement agencies act immediately to comply with the new law.
David Loy, legal director for the ACLUF-SDIC, called the ruling “a victory for transparency and accountability.” He added, “Families and the public have a right to know if their local police departments are holding officers accountable when they violate the law or department rules – or if they are putting them back on the streets to do more harm.”
Until now, California had been one of the nation’s most secretive states when it comes to protecting police records. This landmark law, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, gives the public unprecedented access to records documenting police shootings, department findings of sexual assault and lying by police officers. In the lawsuit, attorneys for police unions in San Diego, Carlsbad, Coronado, El Cajon, National City and Oceanside argued that SB 1421 did not apply to records created before January 1.
The ACLU’s motion – on behalf of Flora Rivera, whose brother, Raul Rivera, was shot and killed by multiple law enforcement officers in May 2018 – seeks to defend the Rivera family’s and the public’s right to obtain police records documenting the shooting.
In January, Voice of San Diego reported that Rick Pinckard, the attorney representing the San Diego police unions, said that while the police lawsuit challenges only the law’s retroactive application, the unions haven’t ruled out a challenge to the law itself. He said the public should trust police departments to effectively weed out bad cops.
“When police officers do bad things, they are disciplined,” he said. But that’s not always accurate. According to Voice of San Diego, a 2015 Justice Department review of the San Diego Police Department found that officers weren’t being held accountable for bad behavior and SDPD’s internal system for dealing with misconduct was seriously flawed.
The review stemmed from the arrest and prosecution of Anthony Arevalos, the San Diego police officer found guilty in 2011 of soliciting sexual bribes from multiple women. Court records showed the department long knew Arevelos was a problem but failed to discipline him.
A deposition in a civil case revealed that San Diego Police Officer Neal Browder similarly faced no discipline — and was never even interviewed by the DA or internal affairs — after shooting an unarmed mentally ill man, Fridoon Rawshan Nehad, in 2015.
Read the ACLUF-SDIC’s brief and the motion to intervene in the lawsuit here: https://www.aclusandiego.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/2019-02-20-Mem-of-PsAs-Opp-Writ-FINAL.pdf; http://bit.ly/sb1421motion.