A Brief History of Police Challenges – and Losses – on SB 1421

Public Safety UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

A Brief History of Police Challenges – and Losses – on SB 1421

Though SB 1421 has only been in place for six months, the law requiring certain police misconduct records to be made public has already faced an avalanche of court challenges.

National City police officers monitor a City Council meeting. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

This post initially appeared in the June 7 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.

Another week, another ruling against law enforcement leaders trying to stonewall records requests under SB 1421, the law that went into effect Jan. 1 requiring certain police misconduct records to be made public.

Last week, a Sacramento judge in a tentative ruling found the Sacramento County Sheriff’s office violated the California Public Records Act and must begin releasing records under the law, the Sacramento Bee reported. The Bee and the Los Angeles Times had sued for records going back five years.

It was a familiar outcome by now. Though the law has only been in place for six months, it’s already faced an avalanche of court challenges, some of which began before the measure was even in place.

The challenges have not gone well for law enforcement. A quick rundown of some of the notable cases:

The AG

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s made his name by launching dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration, found himself on the other end of the equation after he refused to release records on state law enforcement officers’ misconduct.

Becerra only reversed course once a San Francisco judge ruled he must turn over the records, citing a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that found SB 1421 applies retroactively to records generated before 2019.

San Diego

Police unions representing eight local law enforcement agencies sued to block the release of records under SB 1421, arguing the law did not apply retroactively. Voice of San Diego joined with other media outlets in the region to argue that the records should be made public. A judge ruled in March that the agencies must release the records.

Before that ruling San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore initially tried to charge news outlets requesting records hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to obtain them, but backtracked following criticism.

Los Angeles

In one of the first rulings after the law went into effect, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the law applied retroactively, after two police groups sued to block the release of records.

Downey

The Downey Police Officer’s Association lawsuit over its obligations under SB 1421 included a twist: Not only did the union believe it should not have to release records, it wanted permission to permanently destroy them. A judge ruled against the union.

Contra Costa County

A Contra Costa County judge was the first to rule after the law went into effect that it should apply retroactively and that police groups must begin disclosing records generated before Jan. 1, 2019.

Police groups representing officers in Walnut Creek, Antioch, Concord, Martinez, Richmond and at the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department appealed the ruling, but the state appellate court declined to hear the case, leaving the earlier ruling in place.

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