California Dolphin: statewide California news

Police accountability: Appellate court upholds ruling in favor of disclosure of discipline records

SAN FRANCISCO – In a quick blow to police unions trying to block the release of officers’ disciplinary and use-of-force records, a state appeals court on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal of a Contra Costa County judge’s decision last month that pre-2019 records can be made public, letting that decision stand.
Appellate judges found no reason to think that Superior Court Judge Charles Treat’s decision that the state’s new police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421, covered past years would be overturned on appeal and dropped the matter. A stay on the release of records will end on March 19 unless the unions appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Unions representing cops in the Walnut Creek, Antioch, Concord, Martinez, Richmond and the Contra Costa sheriff’s department had appealed Treat’s decision. They’d sued their cities in January to block disclosure of the records.
Police union lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.
Rick Perez had intervened in the case trying to get records on the killing of his son Richard “Pedie” Perez by Richmond cops in September, 2014.
“I just want the truth,” Rick Perez said Tuesday. “I don’t know see why the police wouldn’t want it released. I’m happy” with the decision.
This news organization, KQED, The Center for Investigative Reporting and Investigative Studios, an arm of U.C. Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, also intervened in the case arguing the new law applies to old records.
“This is the strongest signal yet of something that should have been clear all along: The public’s right to know trumps the police unions’ desire to cover up bad behavior,” said Bert Robinson, Managing Editor/Content for the Bay Area News Group.
“Hopefully, the unions will now stop wasting everyone’s time, and allow this important law to tell Californians what they need to know about their law enforcement,” Robinson said.
Five superior court judges have rejected union arguments that the law is not retroactive. One judge, in Ventura County, preliminarily ruled in favor of the unions arguments.
The First District Court of Appeals decision was the first flat out rejection of a union appeal. Appellate judges in Los Angeles also rejected a union appeal of a stay, but did not rule on the merits of its argument.
David Snyder of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition said Tuesday’s ruling is just the latest in a string of judicial rejections of the police union’s arguments.
“The thing that’s notable about this appellate decision compared to the previous appellate decisions that we’ve gotten on this is that this one really takes the union’s arguments on on the merits,” he said. “And says that their legal arguments are meritless.”
Snyder said the legal avenues for police unions to block release of the records are getting narrower with each decision.
The law, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, opens police disciplinary records on sexual abuse and dishonesty cases and on all officer use of force investigations involving serious body injury and shootings.

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