A landmark new police transparency law should apply to internal investigations of officer shootings and misconduct cases that occurred before this year, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra argues in a new court document.
In a legal briefing for a pending state Supreme Court case, Becerra says state legislators intended for the public to know about all investigations of shootings or confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty by officers within a department’s possession when they passed Senate Bill 1421 last year.
“That goal could not be achieved if all records of prior conduct were excluded from the law’s coverage,” said the briefing, which was filed on Wednesday.
Becerra, however, has not followed his own legal opinion. He is refusing to release records held by the attorney general’s office from incidents that occurred prior to Jan. 1 when the law took effect. Becerra has said he wants courts to definitively interpret that the law applies to records of older incidents before he makes public those held by the attorney general’s office. Last week, a First Amendment group sued Becerra for his refusal to disclose the information.
Asked at a news conference last week about his decision not to release the records, Becerra said there are many people “whose privacy is at stake.”
“I’m simply trying to abide by some rulings by the courts,” Becerra said. “I’m not trying to block anything. I will do what the courts say I can legally do.”
The legal briefing also mentions Becerra’s decision not to release the records, saying the attorney general is awaiting court rulings on the matter “because any public disclosure of personnel records would irrevocably reveal potentially protected information.”
Police unions up and down the state have filed lawsuits contending the law should not apply to records of incidents that occurred before this year because of officer privacy concerns. Becerra’s legal briefing says that argument is wrong.
“Moreover, the plaintiffs in a number of cases now pending in the lower courts have contended that SB 1421 does not encompass personnel records that were created, or that relate to conduct that occurred, before the law took effect on January 1, 2019,” the briefing says. “The Attorney General disagrees with that contention.”
The briefing is for a case involving the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which has argued that the state’s police secrecy laws prohibit the sheriff’s department from disclosing a list of deputies with a history of misconduct to prosecutors. Supreme Court justices asked the parties in the case to submit briefings on whether the 2018 transparency law should affect their decision.