Court Tells California Cops (Again!) That Law Requires Disclosure Of Old Misconduct Records


from the retroactivity-yo dept

Let’s roll into the new year by saying what needs to be said: if you’re arguing against government transparency, you’re on the wrong side of history.

But being on the wrong side of history is just something cops love to do. They figure the short term wins — if there are any — might somehow outweigh the long-term consequences of their actions.

A law passed in California in 2019 finally opened up police misconduct records to the general public. In the wake of its passage, cops did everything from destroy records to file lawsuits. The effort to destroy records ahead of this law’s passage made it clear how the state’s cops feel about transparency and/or accountability. They think it’s something that should never apply to them.

Their lawsuits say the same thing. Represented by police unions, several California law enforcement agencies tried to prevent the law from being enforced. They also sued to prevent the law from being applied retroactively — something that was clearly the legislature’s intent.

The good news is cops have lost every single one of these lawsuits so far, despite being backed (initially) by then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (who for some reason is now heading the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services, despite indicating he cares little for humans’ health or services.) The bad news is they can still pretend the law doesn’t affect past misconduct records, forcing California residents to spend their own money to force law enforcement agencies to comply with the law.

The cops keep losing in court and this latest ruling [PDF] is no different. (h/t Courthouse News Service) Cops argued the law could not be used to obtain misconduct records generated before the law took effect. Wrong, says the California state appeals court.

Whether section 832.7 overrides the application of these statutory exemptions in the context of officer-related records presents an issue of statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. (See Becerra, supra, 44 Cal.App.5th at p. 917.) The rules governing our analysis are settled. Our goal in interpreting a statute is to effectuate the Legislature’s intent.


[W]e may reasonably infer from the entire text of section 832.7(b)(1) that its call for disclosure is intended to supersede, at minimum, those exemptions like section 832.7(a) and Government Code section 7923.600 that would “nullify” its application to a wide or significant swath of officer-related records.

That’s how legislators meant the bill to be interpreted. If there was any doubt about the legislative intent, it was cleared up almost immediately by the author of the law. But law enforcement agencies don’t like the way the law reads, so they’ve been continually challenging it every time they refuse to comply with it.

In this case, the state (representing the law enforcement entities currently screwing the First Amendment Coalition out of its requested documents) argued the law only required the release of single misconduct reports, not things like the Inspector General’s report that covered several misconduct cases. Again, the court says the state (which is supposed to enforce this law!) is wrong about law:

In other words, the department seems to read these statutory provisions as excluding records from the scope of section 832.7(b) when they are obtained during a review or investigation of multiple incidents of misconduct. We are not convinced.


By contrast, the department’s textual construction would categorically shield officer-related records whenever a local or oversight agency conducts a single investigation involving separate incidents of misconduct committed by one officer, or a single investigation of misconduct committed by multiple officers, no matter how related the incident…”

Obviously, the law was never meant to shield officers who engage in multiple violations, nor was it crafted to allow law enforcement to refuse to turn over documents that detail multiple violations within a single incident. No law is ever written that way. That would be madness — madness not even the most batshit legislator would be capable of crafting.

The loopholes law enforcement wants to believe exist actually don’t. The case heads back down the state judicial ladder to be adjudicated according to the appeals court’s ruling. It’s another win for accountability and transparency, to be sure. But the battle never should have needed to be fought in the first place. The most commonsense interpretation of the law says these records are exactly the sort of records covered by the law. The pushback that happened here is nothing more than the state government spending the people’s money to argue against their interests. That’s the real problem here. The state AG has no business trying to cover up for bad cops by deliberately ignoring legislative intent.

Filed Under: california, misconduct, police, police misconduct, police misconduct records, transparency

Las Vegas News Magazine

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