Police union attorneys, fighting the public release of an independent report on a 2012 fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by Pasadena police, themselves made public extensive excerpts of the report in court papers, then obtained an appellate court order Wednesday to seal the papers more than a week after they were filed.
The Pasadena Police Officers Assn. appealed a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge's decision in October that the city should release a redacted copy of the report that reviewed officers' conduct leading up to the March 24, 2012, shooting of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade and the department's investigation of it. Judge James Chalfant denied the union's request to keep the report secret and ordered that portions should be made public.
McDade's mother, Anya Slaughter, opposed the police union's request, as did Pasadena community groups and The Times.
In a March 16 filing that was part of the appeal, Richard Shinee, an attorney for the police union and Officers Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen, included about a dozen excerpts from the report the union has been suing to keep secret since September. The report, prepared by the Office of Independent Review consulting group and commissioned by the city, reviewed the McDade shooting and the Pasadena Police Department's handling of officer-involved shootings.
On Wednesday, appellate justices signed off on a request from Shinee to seal that filing, in which the attorney said he had "inadvertently, and mistakenly, included verbatim excerpts" from the report.
Attorneys for McDade's family and The Times said that it was futile, and potentially unconstitutional, for union attorneys to try to suppress something they themselves had disclosed in public court documents more than a week earlier.
"That's a bell that cannot be unrung," said Dale Gronemeier, who represents Slaughter and local groups including the Pasadena chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. Gronemeier said he had shared the information from Shinee's filing with about 20 people, including some who are not his clients.
"The community has a big interest in it," said Gronemeier, who added that the newly disclosed information contained criticisms of the department and the officers' actions that were not previously known. "The attorneys for the [police union] PPOA clearly recognized that they blew it when they disclosed to the other side that major portions of the report which they're trying to suppress."
The Times' attorney said the appellate justices may not have realized that their order was in effect "prior restraint," or censoring information before publication.
"The natural extension of it is the newspaper has to give [the papers] back, and that's something that's not constitutional," Kelli Sager said.
Sager says The Times plans to file a formal objection to the sealing order Thursday.
Shinee did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Slaughter, McDade's mother, said in an interview Wednesday that she'd seen the portions of the report disclosed by the union, and that she found it "disturbing." The full report, she said, would give her a complete picture of what happened when officers shot and killed her son while responding to a report of a supposed armed robbery.
"I know in my heart that it's the final key to tell me everything that happened that night," she said.