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Criminal Justice

Judge Orders Inglewood Police to Preserve Shooting, Other Records. Mayor Calls Planned Purge Routine

A person holds a handmade sign reading  "Stop police brutality!" surrounded by other people seated at meeting.
Tandra Williams holds a sign expressing outrage at a 2002 news conference at Inglewood's City Hall to demand federal and state investigations into the videotaped beating of a 16-year-old after a traffic stop. The city has a long history of alleged police brutality and lack of transparency into instances of use of force.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu
Getty Images)
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A judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the City of Inglewood from destroying police records made public under a three-year old transparency law.

That order on Tuesday came in response to a petition by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which acted after Inglewood’s City Council voted to destroy police records that were more than five years old. Inglewood had previously destroyed police records in the days just before the new transparency law took effect.

While cities are allowed to destroy certain records that are more than five years old, other documents related to ongoing investigations or lawsuits must be preserved.

The transparency law — known as SB1421 — requires police departments to make public all records relating to officer shootings, serious uses of force, sexual misconduct on the job, and lying on the job. Shortly after the law took effect, the ACLU requested all such records from the Inglewood Police Department.

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“Despite submitting those requests nearly three years ago, we have not received a single document,” said Tiffany Bailey, an attorney at the civil rights group.

Asked about the status of the ACLU's public record requests, Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts told us Wednesday: “Everything that we had that was relevant to them, was handed over to them.”

Butts was asked to respond to the ACLU’s claim that no records have been turned over.

“Maybe there wasn’t any responsive records," Butts said. “There’s nothing responsive to what they want."

What's Required Under The Law

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Cities must preserve documents relating to ongoing investigations or lawsuits. The ACLU argues that order includes pending public records requests.

They are not permitted to destroy those records,” Bailey said. “The public has a right to these records.”

In all, there are 56 records at issue — including internal affairs investigations, use of force reports, and reviews of foot pursuits. The city council voted on December 14 to destroy them.

So, have they done it already? Is the lawsuit moot?

“That is an important question that’s worth asking,” Bailey said. “We simply do not know.”

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Butts said Wednesday that the answer is "no." He said no records had been destroyed, yet. He also said that the city attorney agreed with Inglewood Police Chief Mark Fronterotta's assessment that none of records slotted for destruction fall under categories mandated for retention.

In his request to destroy the records, Fronterotta said the records were “obsolete, occupy valuable space, and are of no further use to the department.”

The Council's Vote

When the city council voted unanimously to allow the destruction of those police records, Butts inquired about a query from a public defender who said another law, SB766, prohibited destruction of the records. He asked if that law superseded the city's document retention schedule.

In a video posted by Inglewood-based 2UrbanGirls, Butts leads a brief discussion of the matter. Campos, the city attorney, responds that before the Inglewood police destroy any records: "I have my department review those files with the internal affairs department to see if any of these files are going to fit into the areas they're talking about."

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"Oh, I know that," Butts responds, "but I'm looking up Senate Bill 776."

Campos advises that law requires documents related to sustained findings of discrimination by a law enforcement officers against specific classes must be retained for 30 years. Ultimately, the council votes to move ahead, with Butts noting any documents "removed" are screened to comply with SB776.

When we spoke with Butts Wednesday, he said he expected the temporary restraining order to be lifted shortly.

“This is just a regular, routine purge of administrative records," he said.

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Frank Stoltze covers a new movement for criminal justice reform at a time when not everybody shares the same vision.