Downey Police Union Seeks To Destroy Officer Records

A Downey police officer stands outside the scene of a homicide in 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Since a new law cleared the way for the release of long secret police records, unions representing officers around the state have filed a flurry of lawsuits to prevent those records from seeing the light of day.

The Downey Police Officer's Association has taken an aggressive strategy: it petitioned a court to demand Downey destroy records older than five years. The officer's union argues doing so would be in keeping with the city's five-year retention schedule.

At the request of the union, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lori Ann Fournier issued a temporary restraining order Thursday to block the release of records until the matter can be more fully considered by the court.

The litigation stems from recent legislation, SB 1421, that gives the public access to investigations into officer use of force and shootings, as well as findings of lying and sexual assault.

'ABSOLUTELY NEFARIOUS'

"It is absolutely nefarious that the officers in that city have asked for a court order to destroy information that could shed light on the bad behavior of law enforcement officers," said Jim Ewert, the general counsel for the California News Publishers Association.

"I've never seen this before," said Ewert, who is an advocate for open records.

In December, the City of Inglewood destroyed years worth of investigative records that would have become public under SB 1421.

Mayor James Butts said the move, which came weeks before the law went into effect, had nothing to do with SB 1421, but was instead tied to records retention policy. The L.A. Times reported the records up for destruction — more than 100 police shooting cases — covered decades of internal investigations, back to 1991. According to the paper, Butts called the destruction "routine."

Shortly after SB 1421 went into effect on Jan. 1, the California Department of Justice issued a bulletin advising law enforcement to preserve all records. According to court filings, the City of Downey has so far indicated the records at issue in the union's lawsuit are on hand, and city officials intend to make them public.

Neither the city's nor the union's attorneys responded to request for comment.

PRESS INTERVENES

KPCC/LAist is seeking to intervene in the Downey case, as it has for cases brought by unions for officers at the LA County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department and others.

Like other news organizations, including the L.A. Times, our attorneys are opposing police unions' efforts to block the release of records from incidents that occured prior to the law going into effect.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, who sponsored SB 1421, has made it clear that was the law's intent.

So far, courts in Los Angeles and Orange County have sided against the unions, paving the way for records to be released. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), for example, failed to get last minute stays from the California Court of Appeal and The Supreme Court of California.

The question of retroactivity is far from fully resolved. Cases around the state continue to unfold.