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ACLU sues Pomona Police Department over its deadly force policy

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs into law AB 392, a reform of California's use-of-force rules for law enforcement, on Aug. 6, 2019.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, behind lectern, is joined by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and families who have lost loved ones to police violence for a bill-signing ceremony for AB 392, a reform of California’s use of force rules for law enforcement, in Aug. 2019.
(Anita Chabria / Los Angeles Times)

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Pomona Police Department, alleging that it has been using public funds under the influence of a lobbying group to adopt policies and training that undermine state law on police use of deadly force.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday, names the Pomona Police Department, its Chief Michael Ellis, and the city of Pomona as defendants. It was filed on behalf of Gente Organizada, a Pomona social action group, and a member of a Pomona coalition called Police Oversight Starts Today.

A request for comment left with the Pomona Police Department was not immediately returned. In a statement, the city said that it “will vigorously work to ensure that all the facts are shared with the public because those facts will demonstrate that the city is complying with AB392,” the state law on use of deadly force.

None of the agencies in Los Angeles County have given PORAC or their respective unions a blank check to write Use of Force polices, which includes Pomona.

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Allegations in the lawsuit center on the Police Department’s implementation of a state law — Assembly Bill 392 — that changed the standard for justifying the use of lethal force from when it is “reasonable” to when it is “necessary.” When the law took effect on Jan. 1, it was described as one of the toughest standards in the country regarding use of deadly force.

Plaintiffs contend that the department’s use-of-force policy references a “reasonableness” standard throughout and “does not acknowledge” that AB 392 created the “necessary” standard. As a result, they claim that the department is applying an inaccurate legal standard when it investigates its use of deadly force.

Previously, prosecutors could only consider the moment lethal force was used when determining if an officer acted within the law. Under the new standard, prosecutors can also scrutinize the actions both of officers and suspects leading up to an encounter.

“... Pomona Police Department instructs its officers that AB 392 did not change the legal standard for police officers’ use of deadly force,” the lawsuit states. “This instruction is incorrect: it misstates the legal standard of AB 392 and establishes a different and lower standard for Pomona Police Department officers’ uses of deadly force that violates state law.”

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The plaintiffs contend that the Pomona Police Department has trained its officers on the use of deadly force relying on materials created by the Peace Officers Research Association of California, or PORAC, the state’s largest law enforcement labor organization. While acknowledging that PORAC declared it was “neutral” toward the bill several months before it was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Aug 6, 2019, the lawsuit alleges that the group “began obstructing its implementation as soon as it became law.”

According to the lawsuit, three days after the law was signed, the president of PORAC emailed its members claiming that the new standard was “consistent with current case law” and would “not significantly impact” how police perform their jobs. The Pomona Police Department’s training center then sent that email to all of the department’s sworn officers. Shortly afterward, training on the new law was conducted for officers that relied on PORAC materials, the lawsuit states.

In a statement, PORAC president Brian Marvel wrote that his organization has worked with the ACLU on police reforms and was disappointed in the allegations in the lawsuit.

“None of the agencies in Los Angeles County have given PORAC or their respective unions a blank check to write Use of Force polices, which includes Pomona,” he said.

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The lawsuit seeks several injunctions, including a halt to the use of Pomona Police Department resources to train officers that state law doesn’t establish a “necessary” standard for the use of deadly force.

Times reporter Anita Chabria contributed to this report.


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