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Newsletter: What a new state Supreme Court ruling means for police transparency

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies raise their right hands during their graduation ceremony in 2017.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times )

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Aug. 27, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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California has historically had some of the most restrictive laws in the nation regarding police records. Some of that began to change last year, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed two new laws that ushered in a new era of transparency, giving the public access to internal police investigations and video footage of shootings by police officers for the first time. Those laws went into effect Jan. 1.

[See also: “Here’s how California became the most secretive state on police misconduct” from the Los Angeles Times in Aug. 2018]

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Now, a new California Supreme Court decision will further that tide of police transparency. On Monday, the state high court decided unanimously to overturn a 2017 appeals court ruling that prevented the L.A. County sheriff from giving prosecutors the names of problem deputies, even in pending criminal cases in which those deputies were listed as potential witnesses. Per the California Supreme Court’s ruling, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies may now alert prosecutors that a deputy who is slated to testify in a criminal case has a history of misconduct.

Prosecutors have a constitutional duty to share any evidence that could raise doubts about a defendant’s guilt (e.g., a deputy’s history of misconduct that could damage the deputy’s credibility in court) with the defense. Former L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell wanted to share a list of 300 deputies who have a history of past misconduct with prosecutors, but the union representing rank-and-file deputies strongly opposed the decision and took the department to court on the matter. That same case made its way to the state Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled in favor of the union.

These lists of officers are often referred to as “Brady lists” in reference to Brady vs. Maryland, a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that
suppression of evidence favorable to the defense violated due process. (The prosecutorial duty to inform the defense of said evidence also stems from that case.)

[Go deeper: Here’s a collection of our coverage on the Brady list investigation over several years]

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Police departments in at least a dozen counties around the state, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Ventura, already regularly send prosecutors the names of so-called Brady list officers, as courts reporter Maura Dolan explained in her story on Monday’s ruling.

“In allowing police agencies to disclose the names of errant officers to prosecutors, the state high court tried to ‘harmonize’ state laws that protect police personnel records” with the 1963 Brady precedent, Dolan wrote.

“Despite strong wording in the ruling reminding police and prosecutors of their duties to disclose, Monday’s decision did not require law enforcement agencies to keep lists of problem officers so they could be readily identified to prosecutors,” the story continued, explaining that trial judges will have broad discretion to decide what information in an officer’s personnel files actually gets disclosed, and some law enforcement agencies may still withhold relevant information.

[Read the full story: “California Supreme Court backs greater access to police misconduct cases” in the Los Angeles Times]

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And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

TOP STORIES

California opened another front in its legal battle with the Trump administration over immigration policies on Monday as officials announced a federal lawsuit challenging a new rule that allows indefinite detention of migrant children and their families. The lawsuit is the 57th legal challenge filed by California against the Trump administration. Thirteen of those lawsuits involve immigration policies, including a dispute over funding for a new border wall. Los Angeles Times

What will the future of the La Brea Tar Pits look like? On Monday night, three international architectural firms revealed their competing plans for revamping the public park, museum and paleontology research sites, several months after the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles announced that it would launch a new master planning process for the tar pits, in part to address the site’s aging infrastructure. Here’s a look at the three plans, one of which calls for moving the much-loved mammoth out of the lake and into a new exhibition hall. (Do you have favorite memories of the fiberglass mammoth? Share them here.) Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

A sausage story in South L.A.: How chicken hot links become an integral part of L.A.’s black food culture. Los Angeles Times

Walter Hart Jr. and Sr., the father-son duo behind Best Buy Meats in Hyde Park.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Flowers. Billboards. A hunger strike: Inside the campaign to save Netflix’s “The OA.” Los Angeles Times

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LA Weekly Publisher and CEO Brian Calle has been named director of a a new media integrity center at Chapman University. Calle is best known for firing the majority of the paper’s editorial staff when he took over in November 2017, and presiding over a vastly reduced version of the once storied alt-weekly. OC Weekly

Alhambra’s Sikh community may be displaced from its house of worship for a condo development. Community leaders said that they weren’t properly informed of plans for the development that would tear down their Gurdwara. Alhambra Source

Was “Gilligan’s Island” really filmed at Echo Park Lake? There was only one way to find out: Go straight to the source. Los Angeles Times

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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Surging border crossing wait times are wreaking havoc on students and workers. Voice of San Diego

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

The People’s Bank of Long Beach? The city’s mayor supports the idea, if a bill that would grant cities and counties the authority to establish their own government-run banks becomes law. Long Beach Press-Telegram

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CRIME AND COURTS

Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty to two new counts of sexual assault in New York City on Monday after prosecutors in Manhattan sought to introduce a new accuser to the case just weeks before the disgraced mogul’s criminal trial was set to begin. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge pushed the trial’s start date back to Jan. 6 after the prosecutors presented the new indictment. Los Angeles Times

A Santa Ana judge has set a May trial date for Michael Avenatti, the attorney who rose to fame representing adult actress Stormy Daniels and was accused of defrauding his clients and failing to pay taxes in California. Los Angeles Times

A Big Bear man in possession of bows and arrows was arrested on suspicion of shooting arrows at passing vehicles from the tailgate of his truck. San Bernardino Sun

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

State oil and gas regulators say they’re launching an investigation of operations in a Kern County oil field after a series of large, uncontrolled crude petroleum releases near Chevron wells — including one that has continued on and off for more than 16 years and may have spewed out more than 50 million gallons of crude oil. KQED

Scientists have detected microplastic pollution in Lake Tahoe’s deep blue waters for the first time. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

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Here’s a look inside the new Chase Center facility, where the Golden State Warriors will play in San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle

At a family-run food truck in Bakersfield, a taste of home for California’s Punjabi truck drivers. New York Times

(See also: “Sikh drivers are transforming U.S. trucking. Take a ride along the Punjabi American highway” in the Los Angeles Times)

Cannabis tourism seeks a broader stage in wine country, but obstacles remain. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

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San Francisco International Airport will close its busiest runway section for 20 days starting Sept. 7 for construction. San Francisco Chronicle

Why a former sheriff’s sergeant opened a weed shop in Cathedral City after a long career with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. Desert Sun

San Francisco alt-rock radio mainstay KFOG 104.5 is signing off after 36 years on the air. SF Gate

Southern California’s hotel building boom is heating up as tourism cools. The industry is facing declining visitor growth, a labor shortage and rising costs. Orange County Register

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As Burning Man draws scores of people out of the Bay and into the Nevada desert, here are the hopefully less-crowded San Francisco museums to visit during the week of relative quiet. Curbed SF

... and the esteemed San Francisco restaurants where you might be able to actually score a table during said Burning Man exodus. Eater SF

Know someone in the Central Valley who looks like Selena? A Chicano arts organization in Fresno will be holding a Selena tribute night and look-alike contest this weekend. Fresno Bee

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

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Los Angeles: sunny, 85. San Diego: partly sunny, 76. San Francisco: partly sunny, 73. San Jose: sunny, 90. Sacramento: sunny, 101. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Steve McLane:

“I was a baseball kid from Day One. Dodger blue. One day, at the stadium to pick up the new season’s tickets in the owner’s office overlooking left field, the inner door opened. There stood one bear of a man — Walter O’Malley.

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He bent down over 4-year-old me and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ Shocked, I blurted out, ‘You’re Walter O’Malley, owner of the Dodgers.’ (I called him Walter!)

‘Do you know what day it is?’ Stumped, I just shrugged. ‘It’s my birthday — would you like a piece of my birthday cake?’

Dodger fan for life.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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