The Sacramento Bee by Vincent Moleski
February 14, 2019
A free-speech group sued California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Thursday over his refusal to release police misconduct records under a new state law.
The First Amendment Coalition, an organization that promotes open government and First Amendment rights, filed a lawsuit against Becerra alleging the California Department of Justice rejected a Jan. 4 records request under the transparency law, according to an FAC news release.
“As the highest law enforcement officer in the state, the Attorney General has an obligation to not only comply with the California Public Records Act, but to send the right message about transparency to police departments across the state,” FAC Executive Director David Snyder said in the release. “Unfortunately, the Attorney General has done neither. By denying public access to these crucial files, he has given a green light to other departments to disregard the new law.”
KQED reported earlier this month that the attorney general’s office rejected a freelance reporter’s records request, saying that the law did not apply to records dating before Jan. 1, when SB 1421 took effect. Becerra’s office said last week it would not issue records about law enforcement officers it employs until the matter is decided by the courts.
“Historically, under state statute, peace officers have had a significant privacy right in their personnel records. Several cases have recently raised the issue whether SB 1421 … requires the disclosure of records relating to conduct that occurred before January 1, 2019, which is SB 1421’s effective date. Given the ongoing proceedings, at this time, we are prepared to disclose only records beginning January 1, 2019,” Becerra’s office said in a statement emailed to The Bee. “When it comes to disclosing a person’s private information, you don’t get a second chance to get it right.”
Becerra sent out a bulletin to all California law enforcement agencies Jan. 3 ordering them to “preserve all records that may be subject to disclosure” under the law.