Wednesday, June 5, 2019 · by Katy St. Clair
San Francisco– Representatives from the Public Defender’s Office will be
advocating for the release of previously sealed police personnel files during
Wednesday evening’s Police Commission meeting, Deputy Public Defender Jacque
Wilson has announced.
“Law enforcement in San Francisco
is deliberately sandbagging the release of these records,” said Wilson. “But we
are pushing back just as hard. We’ve filed a Sunshine Ordinance complaint and
have discussed litigation with the City Attorney. We will not back down.”
California Senate Bill 1421,
signed by Governor Jerry Brown at the end of 2018, reclassified certain types
of officer records, including records of officer involved shootings and
excessive force, as well as sustained allegations of dishonesty or sexual
misconduct upon a member or members of the public. These records can now be
released subject to a public records request.
These files were supposed to be
released beginning on January 1 of this year. Despite multiple requests
spanning 6 months, the Public Defender’s Office has received barely a handful.
“We’ve only gotten three files
from the San Francisco Police Department, and the media has received two
additional,” said Legal Assistant Zac Dillon. According to the police chief,
there are 13,000 files. “At the rate of four released, that’s nearly a nearly
zero percent return, and absolutely unacceptable.”
Wilson points out that there are
people with pending cases who are sitting in jail right now who will benefit
from the release of any information regarding officer misconduct. “This is
about due process and the right to a fair trial.”
Initially, police unions
throughout California sued to bar the release of any records prior to January 1st
of this year. In March, the 1 District Court of Appeal rejected the police
union’s argument against retroactivity and ruled that the law applies
regardless. Currently, multiple cities are withholding releases while
they appeal this decision. Many other cities are withholding the files as well,
citing Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s argument that police privacy must be
protected. In May, a judge dismissed the A.G.’s claim as “unavailing.”
“California is the most secretive
state in the Union regarding police files,” said Wilson. “Now that this
information will belong to everyone, they are putting up an incredible fight.
But we will win this for our clients and the people.”
Not only are they deliberately
dragging their feet, said Wilson, there appears to be an alarming collaboration
between the Department of Police Accountability and the S.F.P.D. to coordinate
what is released by each agency. A procedure guide released by both departments
outlines their approach: “To the maximum extent as possible, the departments
shall ensure responses to public records requests are consistent between
“The Department of Police
Accountability is supposed to provide oversight, not work in conjunction with
the police.” said Wilson. “This bill passed in the interest of the truth,
transparency, and the public good. Why is a police watchdog group coordinating
so closely with the body that they oversee? These are the public’s records.
They belong to all of us,” he said.
The Public Defender’s Office anticipates at least 25 people
will attend the Police Commission meeting on Wednesday, June 5. The meeting
takes place at 5:30pm in San Francisco City Hall.