Bay Area Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Releasing Police Misconduct, Shooting Records

California's First District Court of Appeal rejected police union arguments March 12 and summarily ruled that a new transparency law applies to past misconduct and serious use-of-force records. (iStock/Getty Images)

In a legal blow to police unions trying to block the release of officers’ disciplinary and use-of-force records, a state appeals court on Tuesday declined to hear arguments seeking to overturn a Contra Costa County judge’s ruling last month that pre-2019 records can be made public, letting that decision stand.


Appellate judges found no reason to consider that Superior Court Judge Charles Treat's Feb. 8 decision that the state's new police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421, covered past years would be overturned on appeal and declined to hear the case. A stay on the release of records will end on March 19 unless the unions appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"For the reasons stated by the trial court, appellants' argument is without merit," the court's order says.

Unions representing cops in Walnut Creek, Antioch, Concord, Martinez, Richmond and at the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department appealed Treat's decision. They’d sued their cities in January to block disclosure of the records.

Attorneys for the police unions did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.

Rick Perez intervened in the case trying to get records on the 2014 killing of his son Richard “Pedie” Perez by Richmond police officers.

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“I just want the truth,” Rick Perez said Tuesday. “I don’t know why the police wouldn’t want it released. I’m happy” with the decision.

KQED, the Bay Area News Group, the Center for Investigative Reporting and Investigative Studios, an arm of U.C. Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, also intervened in the case arguing the new law applies to old records.

“As we’ve believed since the law took effect in January, this is an important issue of public accountability. We’re glad the court ruled on the side of transparency” said Ethan Lindsey, executive editor of news for KQED. “Critical reporting will come from these public documents and we look forward to continuing our public service journalism.”

Five superior court judges across the state have rejected union arguments that the law is not retroactive. One judge, in Ventura County, granted a preliminary injunction, in favor of the unions' arguments.

Judges in a Los Angeles-area appeals court also rejected a similar challenge but did not comment on the merits of the case, and the state Supreme Court declined to consider that case last week.

The First District Court of Appeal's decision Tuesday was the first flat-out rejection of a union appeal, said David Snyder, executive director of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition.

“This one really takes the union's arguments on on the merits,” he said. “And says that their legal arguments are meritless.”

Snyder's organization has intervened in cases throughout the state arguing that past misconduct and use-of-force records should be made public under the new law.

He said the legal avenues for police unions to block release of records are narrowing with each decision.

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The law, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, opens police disciplinary records on sexual abuse and dishonesty and on all officer use-of-force investigations involving serious bodily injury and shootings.

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