Newspapers Sue to Get California Police Records

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In a test of a new California law requiring the release of police records in shootings and other cases, the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times jointly sued the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, charging that the department is refusing to follow the statute that requires the release of records on deputies who fired their weapons or engaged in misconduct on duty, the Bee reports. The lawsuit says both newspapers filed public records act requests seeking release of such documents under the law that was designed to increase transparency by law enforcement agencies. The requests sought records of all incidents dating to Jan. 1, 2014, but Sheriff Scott Jones’ department quickly rejected both requests, saying it had such records but would not release them until it had “clear legal authority to release such records.”

The lawsuit, filed by San Francisco-based First Amendment attorney Karl Olson, said the records sought by both newspapers “are explicitly made disclosable by Senate Bill 1421” and that the sheriff is withholding the records under the argument that only records generated after the law took effect Jan. 1 can be released. “When the California Legislature enacted SB 1421, it made clear that law enforcement should be transparent in how it has used deadly force, and how officers are disciplined,” said Bee editor Lauren Gustus. “This is a matter of serious public interest. We at The Bee believe access to these records must be extended retroactively.” California has had some of the nation’s strongest laws shielding law enforcement personnel records from view.

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