Days before new law, court blocks Inglewood from destroying police disciplinary records
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has temporarily blocked the Inglewood Police Department from destroying records just ahead of a new transparency law that is set to go into effect Jan. 1 in California.
The ruling comes three years after the city was thrown into controversy over its handling of law enforcement documents.
In late 2018, the city of Inglewood destroyed hundreds of police records in the weeks before Senate Bill 1421 went into effect. The law expanded public access to police use-of-force, misconduct and disciplinary records for departments across the state. Critics argued Inglewood sought to destroy years of investigative records involving police dating to 1991 just ahead of the new law, a claim city leaders rejected.
“This premise that there was an intent to beat the clock is ridiculous,” Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said at the time.
Since 2019, the Inglewood Police Department has not produced a single document under SB 1421, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California in a lawsuit filed Dec. 23. On Dec. 14, the Inglewood City Council adopted a resolution to purge more police records, including all internal affairs investigations dated through Dec. 31, 2016, and all use-of-force reports and pursuit reviews dated through Dec. 31, 2019.
The request signed by Inglewood Police Chief Mark Fronterotta says, “The attached records are no longer required to be retained by law and are not needed for any pending litigation.”
State law allows police departments to destroy some records after a certain timeframe, but the ACLU argues that those records “fall squarely within their request” and that the Inglewood Police Department is ignoring the California Public Records Act and SB 1421. The city of Inglewood said in court declarations that some records requested by the ACLU should be temporarily withheld pending ongoing investigations.
As an example, Inglewood Assistant City Atty. Derald Brenneman said Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s office has not decided if charges will be filed against the officers who shot and killed Kisha Michael and Marquintan Sandlin on Feb. 21, 2016.
ACLU attorney Tiffany Bailey said Inglewood’s actions have raised serious questions on whether the city is again trying to destroy records just before a new transparency measure becomes law.
Two years after Senate Bill 1421 opened up police records kept secret for decades, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released a cache of disciplinary records that reveal new details about deputy misconduct.
“This is a city that has not operated in good faith,” Bailey said. “The City Council and city attorney have all been complicit.”
The city of Inglewood and attorneys representing the city did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the court’s recent order.
Starting Jan. 1, California’s window into police records will broaden under Senate Bill 16. Under the bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, Californians will have access to records on a range of police actions, including discrimination, sexual assault involving a civilian, failure to intervene against another officer using unreasonable force, and other unlawful actions.
On Tuesday, Judge David Cowan granted the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order and ordered the parties back in court on Jan. 18 to determine if the court’s order would be extended.
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