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KQED Sues Attorney General, Seeking Access to Police Misconduct and Shooting Records

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says he will wait for court rulings before releasing records on serious police misconduct and shootings unsealed by a new state law. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

KQED joined in a lawsuit against the California Department of Justice and Attorney General Xavier Becerra Tuesday, seeking to compel the release of serious police misconduct and use-of-force records unsealed by a new state law.

The San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition originally filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court on Feb. 14, after Becerra refused to provide records of police shootings, on-the-job sexual assault and dishonesty-related officer misconduct held by the state DOJ. The attorney general argued the courts should first weigh in on “the retroactive application” of Senate Bill 1421, citing lawsuits brought by police and deputies unions throughout the state that aim to block public access to pre-2019 records.

"There is no indication that the Legislature intended to allow records showing this type of malfeasance to remain secret, simply because they were created — or relate to conduct that occurred — in the past," said the amended filing Tuesday that was joined by KQED. "To the contrary, the context of the law’s enactment, its statutory language, and statements by the bill’s author and in committee reports demonstrate the legislature’s intent to require disclosure of records of past misconduct."

Open-government and news organizations, including KQED, have opposed many of the police unions' court challenges — and judges have consistently ruled for transparency. A Contra Costa County judge issued the first rejection of the unions' arguments on Feb. 18. Since then, courts in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange counties have issued similar rulings. And on Friday, justices summarily denied an appeal of a Los Angeles ruling. Only a Ventura County judge has ruled in favor of the unions, in a preliminary decision.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association filed similar litigation late last week, trying to block access to past records.

Becerra's office declined to comment Tuesday.


Tuesday's amended lawsuit in San Francisco against the attorney general cites reporting on records that have been released by some agencies in response to more than 400 public records requests jointly filed by a coalition of news organizations, including KQED, the Bay Area News Group and Investigative Studios — the production arm of UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program.

Those records so far have exposed an officer’s attempts to sexually exploit an arrested woman — prompting prosecutors to take a second look at criminal charges. They showed a former Southern California sheriff’s deputy, who also worked as an investigator for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, admitted to stealing thousands of rounds of ammunition over decades but was never charged with theft. And most recently, reporting on the records led to the dismissal of criminal charges against a Rio Vista woman who was mauled by a police K-9.

Attorneys representing KQED also criticized Becerra's veiled threat to take legal action against UC Berkeley-based reporters for possessing records about criminal convictions of California peace officers released under a different law. The journalists rejected a Jan. 29 demand from Becerra's office to destroy the "inadvertently provided" records and instead published preliminary findings with KQED and Bay Area News Group papers about some of the thousands of law enforcement officers with criminal convictions over the past decade.

"The Attorney General’s attempt to muzzle journalists who lawfully received public records about police misconduct suggests that [his office's] refusal to produce misconduct records ... here is part of a bad-faith pattern of attempting to frustrate public access about matters of the utmost public importance," Tuesday's amended lawsuit said.

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