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Court rescinds sealing order on Pasadena shooting report excerpts

Appellate court rescinds sealing order on legal filing that quotes report critical of Pasadena police shooting

Following objections from newspaper attorneys, an appellate court on Friday reversed its previous order to seal a court filing that included excerpts of a critical report on an officer-involved-shooting in Pasadena.

The unsealed court papers contain excerpts of an independent consultant’s report on the 2012 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by two police officers. 

Pasadena’s police union has been fighting to keep the report secret since last summer, arguing that it includes privileged and sensitive information about the officers and their actions.

Attorneys for the union, which sued the city of Pasadena to stop the report from becoming public, themselves included portions of the report in a recent filing. 

The 2nd District Court of Appeal last month granted the union’s request to seal the court filing after it had been publicly available for more than a week. Union attorneys said the disclosure was a mistake.

Attorneys for The Times, the teenager’s mother and Pasadena community groups protested the court order, saying the retroactive sealing amounted to unconstitutional censorship because it forbade a media organization from publishing information already in its possession.

On Friday, more than three weeks after the initial order, acting presiding Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson voided his sealing order without explanation.

The Times published portions of the report that were read aloud during the public comment period at a recent Pasadena council meeting by residents protesting the lack of transparency surrounding the report.

The report by the Office of Independent Review consulting group concluded that steps taken by Officers Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen before the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade were “troubling” and “potentially disastrous.”

It faulted tactical errors by the officers, including a lack of communication between the officers, their decision to enter a narrow alleyway and put themselves in a vulnerable position, and closing their distance on a suspect they believed was armed based on a false 911 report.

“They repeatedly made tactical decisions that were not congruent with principles of officer safety,” the report concluded, according to the excerpts contained in the union filing. Such tactical mistakes by officers putting themselves in a position of danger led to “the eventual perceived need to use deadly force,” the report said.

Both officers were cleared of wrongdoing in the Police Department’s internal review and by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

The appellate case stemmed from a ruling in November when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant decided that most of the independent consultant’s report could be made public, with limited redactions. The Pasadena Police Officers Assn. filed a petition with the appellate court to stop the release.

An attorney for the union declined to comment Friday.

Oral arguments for that case are scheduled for next week. 

For news on the courts, follow @vicjkim

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