California bill would give families more information after police killings

A couple sits at a table with a portrait of a young woman behind them on the wall
Jim Showman, left, advocated for legislation to change how police question families whose relatives have been killed or injured by police after his daughter Diana, shown in the framed portrait on the wall behind Showman’s wife Vickie, was killed by San Jose police.
(LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

California law enforcement investigators would have to change how they interview the families of people killed by police under legislation meant to stop officers from questioning relatives before revealing that their loved one is dead.

The proposed law would require detectives and prosecutors investigating a police-related death to read to families of the deceased a list of declarations similar to Miranda rights, informing them that they have the right to know the status of their loved one, remain silent, retain an attorney, and know whether they are being recorded before answering questions.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), said it is an attempt to disrupt a common practice in California, in which investigators interview the families of people killed during police encounters without first informing them of their relative’s death.


“That is not the time for us to be interrogating those family members, when they don’t even know what’s happened to their loved ones,” Kalra said. “I don’t think it’s the morally right thing to do and I frankly don’t think it’s good for public policy, either.”

The bill was introduced after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that detectives across the state had used death notification encounters as opportunities to collect disparaging information about people killed or seriously injured by police, which law enforcement agencies later used to defend officers accused of the shootings.

After a police killing, law enforcement agencies across California have been trained to keep families in the dark in order to gather information used to protect their department.

March 28, 2023

In 20 instances the investigation documented, police and prosecutors from 15 law enforcement agencies questioned families about a relative’s alcohol and drug use, violent behavior and mental health issues without first telling them their loved one was dead.

In cases where families sued, departments later used the information from those interviews to defend themselves in court, painting the deceased as mentally ill drug addicts and deadbeat parents in part to lower the cost of damages or settlements paid to families.

Attorneys and advocacy groups specializing in police misconduct say the cases uncovered by The Times and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism are just a fraction of a routine practice. The article last month won a George Polk Award, one of the highest honors in investigative journalism.

The California Police Chiefs Assn. has come out against the measure.

“Our peace officers rely largely on the support and cooperation of the public to do their jobs successfully,” association president Alex Gammelgard wrote in a statement to The Times. “Creating a sweeping mandate, even one with good-intentions, may undermine the ability of officers to gather critical information in certain high-stakes situations.”


A representative for the Orange County district attorney’s office, one of the 15 agencies that has used the tactic, said the agency had not yet taken a position on the bill. The California State Sheriff’s Assn. did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

Kalra said he expected pushback from law enforcement groups, but is willing to work with agencies to find a middle ground that will protect families from deceitful lines of questioning without hindering investigators’ ability to do their jobs.

Some detectives have compared delaying death notifications to a common and legally sanctioned tactic of lying to criminal suspects during an investigation. Current law does not bar law enforcement officers from withholding death notifications from families, even when they are not suspected of a crime. But some policing experts say officers have a moral obligation to inform families as soon as possible.

Rick Myers, a retired police chief and former president of the Major Cities Chiefs Assn. who has condemned the interview tactic, said that while he generally opposes legislation that would dictate the actions of police, this bill is an exception.

“If you can’t police yourself and act ethically and humanely with compassion in this business, you run the risk of having the legislature tell you how to do that,” Myers said. “I think that’s what’s happened here.”

San Jose parent Jim Showman said he teamed up with Kalra and Silicon Valley DeBug, a police accountability group, to draft Assembly Bill 3021 after Showman learned he was one of dozens of families who had been objects of the tactic.


After a San Jose officer fatally shot his 19-year-old daughter Diana in 2014, police took Showman to an interrogation room where detectives questioned him about his daughter’s mental health issues and violent outbursts.

The detectives waited 27 minutes to tell Showman his daughter was dead, a recording of the interview shows. Showman and his ex-wife sued, but couldn’t win any money in their settlement with the city, in part, he and his attorney argue, because of the information Showman shared with detectives. He had told them about his daughter’s history of suicide attempts, information prosecutors used in clearing the officer of wrongdoing.

“I can never bring Diana back, but hopefully people in the future won’t be treated as such,” Showman said about the bill.

A lawsuit over California’s police deadly force law has reignited a fierce debate between law enforcement groups and civil rights advocacy organizations.

Dec. 2, 2022

The tactic was taught by Bruce Praet, an attorney and co-founder of Lexipol, a company that hundreds of police departments and district attorney’s offices across the state have hired to train officers and prosecutors on policing tactics and avoiding lawsuits.

In a 2019 webinar that was available on Lexipol’s website until early 2022, Praet encouraged officers to get families talking candidly before informing them their relative is dead.

“Before the dust settles, I want you sending a uniform[ed officer], detective, I don’t care, somebody out there, to their friends and family to find out what they’ve been up to,” he said in the webinar.


Praet defended his advice in a 2022 interview with The Times, arguing that families are more likely to change their story after learning their relative is dead.

“I advocate getting to the truth — unbiased, untainted,’’ he said. “Shouldn’t [investigators] get that before this person is tainted and all of a sudden in a defensive mode?”

Just before Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s radio program, aired an episode about Praet’s advice in November, Lexipol issued an apology and said Praet no longer works with Lexipol. More recently, when asked for this article about Praet’s advice, Lexipol spokesperson Shannon Pieper said:

“It is important to note the statements were not made by Lexipol employees and the tactics expressed in these statements are not and were never reflected in Lexipol policy guidance.”

She added that the company does not take stances on legislation, but will monitor the progress of the new bill and, if it becomes law, make relevant changes to Lexipol’s policy guidance.