Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been warned by the union representing his rank-and-file deputies that he would be violating the law if he releases personnel records to the special commission examining allegations of inmate abuse inside the county's jails.
Disciplinary reports and other internal records have been expected to play a major role in the ongoing investigation by the jail commission, created last year by the county Board of Supervisors to address the growing criticism of the sheriff's lockups. The panel's general counsel said Friday he worried they might have to go to court to get the records.
Baca will be consulting with the county's attorneys before deciding whether to give the commission access to the records. "The sheriff supports what the commission is doing, but he's not going to violate any laws," Steve Whitmore, the sheriff's spokesman, said Friday.
The jail panel's investigation is loosely modeled on that of the landmark Christopher Commission, which recommended sweeping reforms of the LAPD after the 1991 beating of Rodney King. The Board of Supervisors launched the panel soon after news broke last year that the FBI was investigating allegations of inmate abuse and other jailer misconduct. Later this year, the seven-member panel is expected to release a report, based on the work of a cadre of pro bono attorneys, examining the jail's culture and management.
Access to personnel records is the second major item the deputies union has objected to since the jails commission was formed. The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs previously blasted the panel for mulling the idea of allowing deputies to testify anonymously, warning that the practice would turn the probe into a "witch hunt." The panel eventually dropped the idea, deciding it cannot guarantee witnesses' confidentiality.
In a recent letter to Baca, the attorney for the largest rank-and-file deputies union expressed opposition to releasing personnel records. The letter argues that the release would violate state laws protecting peace officers' privacy.
"The Sheriff's Department may NOT release any personnel records to this independent commission or it will be acting in violation..." attorney Richard A. Shinee stated in the letter, before going on to threaten specific legal action if the department does release the documents.
Commission staffers expressed optimism that their access to the records, which would provide detailed accounts of force incidents and jailer conduct, would not be derailed.
"I think we'll be able to overcome these objections, but it's conceivable we'll have to go to court," said Richard E. Drooyan, the panel's general counsel.