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CA Appeals Court Rules Against LBPOA Effort To Halt Public Records Act Release of Officers' Names in LBPD Officer-Involved Shootings

(Feb. 8, 2012, 2:51 p.m.) -- A California (state) Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that supports a Public Records Act request by the Los Angeles Times seeking the names of LBPD officers involved in the Dec. 2010 Zerby officer-involved shooting and other LBPD officer involved dating back back to 2005.

The LB Police Officers Association sought an injunction to prevent LB City Hall from releasing the information. A trial court initially granted the POA a temporary restraining order but ultimately ruled against the POA and declined to issue an injunction preventing release of the information requested. In its opinion (link below), the three judge Appeals Court panel examined the statutory exemptions to release in the Public Records Act and concluded that they don't apply in the circumstances of the case.

To read the full Court of Appeals opinion in Long Beach Police Officers Ass'n v. City of Long Beach, click here

The Los Angeles Times said in a statement reported on LATimes.com that it was "pleased that the Court of Appeal has definitively rejected the notion that police officers in this state can exercise lethal force anonymously."

LB Police Officers Association Steve James told LBReport.com: "We're examining our options; we think it's a bad decision; and we think it puts police officers' lives in jeopardy."

LB City Attorney Bob Shannon said in a email response to LBReport.com: "We're still reviewing the case and considering options. Although we retain the option of petitioning the Supreme Court for review, we would seek City Council approval before taking that action."

Following the Dec. 2010 Doug Zerby officer involved shooting, LATimes reporter Richard Winton made a Publc Records Act request to the city for "[t]he names of Long Beach police officers involved in the December 12 office[r] involved shooting in the 5300 block of East Ocean Boulevard" and "[t]he names of Long Beach police officers involved in officer involved shootings from Jan. 1[,] 2005 to Dec. 11, 2010."

LB City Hall initially responded that it intended to comply with the request by January 10, 2011...and after the City informed the LBPOA of the request and its intent to comply, the LBPOA filed a verified complaint against the City, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent the release of the names.

[Court of Appeals] ...LBPOA president Steve James averred he was aware that the shooting review which takes place following an officer-involved shooting can lead to findings resulting in an internal affairs investigation. He expressed safety concerns about releasing the names of shooting officers, referring to an incident in which an anonymous blog posting contained a threat to a shooting officer’s family and to another incident in which an officer involved in a shooting was reassigned to another area following death threats. He also described the ease with which the Internet allows an individual to discover personal information about another and opined that "[t]he best way to keep officers safe from these unknown people who may try to bring harm is to not let them know which officer was involved."

...[T]he Times moved to intervene and filed opposition. The City filed a memorandum in which it aligned itself with the LBPOA. In support of the City’s position, Long Beach Police Department Lieutenant Lloyd Cox averred that department policy was not to release the names of officers involved in an officer-involved shooting because those officers become the subject of an administrative and/or criminal investigation, and the investigative materials become part of the officers’ personnel records. He further declared that upon completion of the investigative process, the officer names were kept confidential unless a motion was filed pursuant to Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531 (Pitchess) or they were sought through discovery in a civil or criminal case. He indicated that, since late 2007, the police department had issued eight officer safety bulletins about potential threats or retaliation against officers, two of which related to officer-involved shootings. Noting that knowing someone’s name can be the gateway to a world of information about him or her through the Internet, Lieutenant Cox declared that "the Long Beach Police Department insists on protecting the identity of its officers, when those officers are involved in critical incidents, including shootings, in order to ensure their safety and the safety of their families."

Following a January 18, 2011 hearing, the trial court issued an order granting the Times’s request to intervene and to dissolve a [previously granted] temporary restraining order [that had temporarily prevented release of the documents] and and denied without prejudice the LBPOA’s preliminary injunction request.

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