Updated Monday, 11:59 p.m.
In one of the first releases of records under a new state law designed to show how police officers are disciplined for major offenses, documents show the Burlingame Police Department fired a veteran officer last year after it found he offered to help a woman charged with DUI if she had sex with him.
The former officer, David W. Granucci, 45, was later found to have made similar proposals to two other women, one who engaged in a sexual affair with him, according to the documents. He had been a Burlingame police officer since 2000, and had previously worked for the Hayward Police Department.
Reporters with KQED and the Bay Area News Group obtained the records under a new police transparency law sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, represents a big change for police in the Golden State, which for decades had enjoyed the most restrictive laws in the nation, making access to information about officers misconduct and discipline all but impossible. Similar bills had died in the Legislature several times over the past 20 years.
The law requires any agency that employs sworn officers to publicly release records of discipline related to official dishonesty and sexual misconduct on duty. It also requires release of all investigations into the use of force involving a firearm and any force that results in serious bodily injury, including disciplinary records stemming from such cases.
“The public is entitled to know about abuses of the extraordinary power they give to police officers, and (the new law) finally allows them to see evidence of these abuses — evidence that is essential in order for the public to hold police officers, and their departments, accountable,” said David Snyder, executive director of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition, an open government group.
'Using His Police Authority'
According to the discipline records released by Burlingame police, the unidentified woman with the drunken driving charge was arrested in March 2018. The documents do not indicate whether Granucci was the arresting officer. But he obtained her phone number and address, then went to her house the following day and solicited sex while "using his police authority, by offering to assist her with her DUI case," according to a summary of an internal affairs investigation. She rejected Granucci’s advances and reported him to police.
The Police Department put Granucci on administrative leave when he showed up to work the next day, the records say. He was fired more than three months later by then Police Chief Eric Wollman, who recently retired. Granucci could not be reached for comment Monday.
The internal investigation found that Granucci violated 12 department rules, including exercising his authority wrongly, disclosing investigative information, and discrediting his department. Wollman gave the investigation’s findings to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to file criminal charges.
San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Al Serrato wrote in an email that his office looks at police-abuse cases closely because of the positions of authority that officers hold. But he added, “We ultimately determined that there were no chargeable violations that we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt” concerning Granucci.
New Burlingame Police Chief Michael Matteucci wrote in an email that "we take our obligations to the public seriously including the newly enhanced transparency requirements under state law." He added that the department "will not have further comment on the merits of these cases."
A police expert said Burlingame's firing of the officer for attempting to manipulate the woman into sex was in keeping with how departments across the country handle such matters.
"Extorting sexual favors in return for failing to carry out one’s official duties are certainly offenses that routinely lead to termination in law enforcement agencies nationwide," said Tom Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant turned academic. Nolan also said that in many instances such as the one involving Granucci, criminal charges are filed.
Some police unions are pushing back on the new law, arguing that it should not apply to records about disciplinary cases filed before Jan. 1.
One prominent attorney for police unions, Michael Rains of Pleasant Hill, made a failed, last-minute attempt to block the law from taking effect in mid-December. The state Supreme Court refused to hear Rains' argument that the law does not require the release of records showing misconduct that occurred before Jan. 1.
But the fight might not be over. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued an injunction on New Year’s Eve barring the LAPD from releasing similar records until a hearing is conducted next month concerning the law’s retroactivity.
Rains did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment on Monday. A statement on his law firm website says “it is possible that numerous lawsuits will be pursued by peace officer labor organizations in local courts throughout the state to prevent public agencies from releasing confidential information which is prohibited by law.”
But news media and First Amendment groups have scoffed at the claim that the law does not apply to old records, and the Legislature's intent is clear.
It “can and should be applied retroactively,” a lawyer representing the First Amendment Coalition, the Los Angeles Times, the California News Publishers Association and KQED wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court, adding that “the understanding and intent” of state lawmakers was that the new law was to be applied retroactively to existing disciplinary records in officers' personnel files.
UC Berkeley graduate student reporters Susie Neilson and Josh Slowiczek contributed to this story.
This story was reported in collaboration with the Bay Area News Group and Investigative Studios, an independent nonprofit news organization affiliated with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.