Judge rules police must release records publicly on shootings, misconduct

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego judge ruled Friday that law enforcement agencies must disclose records regarding police misconduct and officer-involved shootings to the public, in compliance with a recently enacted state law.

Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon ruled that law enforcement agencies must comply with SB 1421, a transparency law that went into effect Jan. 1 requiring that law enforcement agencies disclose such records upon public request. The “The Right to Know Act” applies to records regarding police shootings, excessive force, allegations of officers committing sexual assault, and allegations of officers lying or falsifying reports to conceal misconduct.

Law enforcement unions from across the state sued to block the release of such records, with the San Diego County case brought on behalf of the Carlsbad Police Officers Association.

Police have argued that the law should not apply retroactively to records created before Jan. 1, 2019, and that such application would violate the privacy rights of officers.

Sturgeon’s court ruling notes that the law “does not explicitly state the amendments are retroactive,” but the judge also wrote that the language of the law supports the retroactive interpretation and that the Legislature likely intended that the law apply in that fashion.

He also noted “there has never been an absolute right to privacy” when it comes to alleged officer misconduct, which is “routinely” discussed in open court.

Similar rulings were also issued recently by judges in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Police unions will have opportunities to appeal the rulings.

The latest ruling went in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego & Imperial counties, which filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit last month, as well as several San Diego news outlets. According to the ACLU, its motion was filed on behalf of Flora Rivera, whose brother Raul was fatally shot by police in May in the Nestor community of San Diego.

Police alleged that Rivera advanced on officers with a knife, while family members contend that police used excessive force on a man suffering from mental health issues.

The ACLU “seeks to defend the Rivera family’s and the public’s right to obtain public records documenting the shooting,” according to a statement released Friday.

David Loy, legal director for the ACLUF-SDIC, said:  “Today’s ruling is a victory for transparency and accountability. Families and the public have a right to know if their local police departments are holding officers accountable when they violate the law or department rules — or if they are putting them back on the streets to do more harm.”

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