COURTS RULE 300 OFFICERES WITH A
VIOLENT HISTORY CANNOT BE REPORTED
by Marty Carlson
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell
According to the Los Angeles media, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been blocked by the courts, at least temporarily, of revealing 300 deputies who have history of misconduct.
The issues range from domestic violence, to theft, bribery, and brutality. This could also damage one’s credibility if they testify in court.
LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to send the names to the District Attorney’s Office, who can add them to an internal database that tracks problem officers. This can be critical to many defendants and that information they need to be disclosed in criminal trials.
Sheriff’s Department union argues that the disclosure would violate laws protecting officer personnel files, and draw unfair scrutiny on deputies as mistakes might’ve happened long ago.
Last week an appeals court sided with the union; temporarily blocking the Sheriff’s Department from sending names.
Other law enforcement agencies throughout the state are closely watching the results of these court rulings to decide to adopt the same practice.
It was also noted that many departments already sent this information to their local District Attorney’s Office. Cities like San Francisco and Sacramento regularly send prosecutors the names of those officers. In other areas like San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, it has been done for over a decade.
That approach has recently earned praise from the state Supreme Court and gained new attention of increasing demands for police accountability nationwide.
There is a fundamental issue to the criminal justice system and the prosecutor’s obligation to hand over exculpatory evidence that could help the defense. That includes information that could undermine an officer’s credibility.
In the landmark 1963 US Supreme Court ruling in Brady vs Maryland, prosecutors must turn over exculpatory evidences to defendants. Failing to disclose such evidences can result in faulty convictions.
California law has some of the strictest protections on law enforcement officers’ records in the country. Discipline hearings, personnel files and even the names of officers accused in eternal affairs investigations are confidential. Special court orders to get even basic information from an officers personnel file is very difficult.
The issue is whether it’s up to police departments tipoff to prosecutors about officers who have a history of misconduct, or whether prosecutors are supposed to find out about the problem officers on their own.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office does not have access to police discipline files; they learn about potential misconduct from law enforcement agencies when they present criminal cases in which officers are suspects and from news articles.
A lawyer for the deputy’s union contends that the District Attorney’s Office would refuse to accept the names of deputies with disciplinary histories.
She noted a declaration filed in court this month where a prosecutor in charge of handling police misconduct stated his office has been actively declining to accept information from a police officer personnel file. And that is only if the information is offered by law enforcement agency without the express permission of the involved officer.
But Los Angeles assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers said he believes that Sheriff’s Department has a clear constitutional obligation to disclose to the District Attorney’s Office the names of deputies with potential credibility issues. They claim it is part of the Sheriff’s commitment of transparency.
In 2015, the state Supreme Court praised San Francisco police for notifying local prosecutors about officers who had problematic histories. And soon afterwards, the Atty. Gen.’s office advised the California Highway Patrol that doing so was legal.
In October, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department sent letters to about 300 deputies warning them that their personnel files contain evidence of moral turpitude. The letter said such acts could include accepting bribes or gifts or misappropriating properties, tampering with evidence, lying, obstructing investigations, falsifying records, using unreasonable force, discriminatory harassment, and family violence. They also stated that some of the offenses do not apply to any current deputies in the department.
They stated the letters would include only the deputies found guilty of wrongdoing by internal investigations, and the agency would send just the deputies names, not their entire personnel file.
The officer’s names are not intended to become public, but their presence on a list kept by prosecutors means deputies could be one step closer to have the disciplinary files scrutinized by a judge. Which could also mean their police work could be called into question during court.
It was also noted about 15 management – level employees up to the rank of Lieut. also received warning notices. The union has filed unfair labor practices complaint on behalf of its members according to the association’s president.
In my opinion police officers should be held to a higher standard and maybe this would help keep them from doing some of the activities that they feel exempt from; due to their status. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And there’s been some contact with me personally, in this particular area, in regards to some of these activities.