One court after another has ruled that a secret list of about 300 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who have lied, stolen, tampered with evidence, and committed other misconduct must remain confidential.
But some groups across the state are still pushing for the names to be handed over to prosecutors.
One organization in Los Angeles is going further, saying that information about deputies’ pasts should be available to anyone. On Monday, it launched an online gallery of deputies named in public reports of officer-involved shootings and other incidents.
Theproblematic.org was created by the advocacy group Dignity and Power Now as a way to gather information and solicit tips about deputies who have been accused of misconduct. The data on the site, which features 22 deputies, draws primarily from news reports and public documents but does not purport to necessarily reflect those officers on the department’s secret list.
“This website is designed to give the public insight into who are the deputies harming their communities,” said Patrisse Cullors, the founder of Dignity and Power Now. The group advocates for inmates and their families and is a frequent critic of the county Sheriff’s Department, which runs the largest jail system in the nation.
Leaders from two deputies’ unions criticized the site. Lt. Brian Moriguchi, president of the Professional Peace Officers Assn., said the project is “simply trying to embarrass or ‘out’ officers” without benefiting public safety.
And the department, in a statement, called into question the site’s accuracy, saying it “has the potential to be inflammatory and jeopardize the safety of the deputies and their families.”
Shannon Soper, Dignity and Power Now communications director, said the group has simply organized publicly available information, inspired by other websites that collect media reports on officer conduct, and provides a resource for the public to share information about deputies in their communities.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell has yet to say whether he will appeal to the state Supreme Court an appeals court decision July 11 that barred him from sending prosecutors the names of deputies whose misconduct could damage their credibility as witnesses — even in pending criminal cases in which the deputies could testify. Last fall, McDonnell tried to give the list to prosecutors, but a deputies’ union sued.
“We take very seriously the precedent-setting nature of this case and are currently assessing all legal options with our counsel of record. We expect to make an informed decision in the near future once all factors, options, and potential ramifications are assessed in this complex legal matter,” the department said in a statement.
The decision left open the possibility that names could be disclosed under a court order. Right now, police agencies in at least a dozen counties in the state regularly send prosecutors lists of officers with credibility issues.
The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady vs. Maryland obligates prosecutors to alert defendants to any evidence favorable to the defense, which could include information that undermines an officer’s credibility. Not doing so could result in wrongful convictions.
California has some of the strictest protections on law enforcement officer records in the country. Discipline hearings, personnel files and the names of officers accused in internal investigations are secret.
On Thursday, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission is expected to consider authorizing a formal letter to urge McDonnell to appeal the recent court decision. In March, the commission adopted a resolution supporting the sheriff’s effort to notify prosecutors about deputies found by internal investigators to have committed acts of “moral turpitude.”
Those misdeeds could involve domestic violence, bribery, brutality, writing false reports, lying to investigators, unreasonable force and discriminating against others.
“If the sheriff decides that he wants to appeal, I think that is the right decision,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
“From my point of view, the list is not harmful to deputies,” she said.
Representatives from Dignity and Power Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the California Public Defenders Assn. on Monday urged McDonnell to appeal the recent decision.
Those organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief, known as an amicus brief, on the sheriff’s behalf in March.
“This has statewide repercussions,” said Michael McMahon, chair of the amicus committee of the California Public Defenders Assn., based in Sacramento. “The court of appeals decision seems to be a real setback to the smooth and reliable administration of criminal justice statewide.”
But Det. Ron Hernandez, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said the appeals court made the right decision and that it doesn’t violate defendants’ right to a fair trial.