Update on police lawsuit to shield killer cops from transparency

rQRo's picture

We brought you information about this case when it was filed, I believe, after a reporter brought it to our attention. We at CopWatch IE are fully in favor of full transparency for public agencies, especially when employees of those agencies represent a threat to the community. We applaud the court's decision to uphold the right to know who the dangerous "public servants" are! Justice for Douglas Zerby!


California Supreme Court rules names of officers involved in shootings are public record
By Greg Yee, Press-Telegram
California’s police departments do not have a blanket right to conceal the names of officers involved in shootings, the state Supreme Court ruled this morning.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the Long Beach police union, concluding there is a presumption that the public has a right to know the identities of officers involved in shooting incidents. While the justices indicated there may be circumstances that would permit keeping the information secret, particularly if an officer’s safety might be jeopardized, departments do not have a sweeping right to withhold the officers’ identities in the aftermath of shootings.

“We reject that blanket rule,” Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired this spring with the case pending, wrote for the majority.

Justice Ming Chin was the lone dissent, siding with the Long Beach police union, which was joined by some other law enforcement groups in the case. Chin argued that the information is exempt from public records laws because it threatens police rights to privacy.

Long Beach police and surrounding agencies have not yet responded to requests for comment.

The case stems from a challenge by the Los Angeles Times, joined by other media organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union, which in 2010 sought the names of Long Beach officers involved in the fatal shooting of Douglas Zerby, who was shot by police while holding a pistol-grip water hose nozzle in December 2010. The Times also made a request under the state Public Records Act for the names of any Long Beach officers involved in shootings over a five-year period.

The Long Beach police officers’ association balked at the request, moving to block the disclosures in the courts. Both a trial judge and a state appeals court rejected the union’s arguments, prompting the appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court made it clear there might be situations where police departments can make a strong showing that the reasons for keeping the information under wraps outweigh the public’s right to know the identities of the officers. But the court found Long Beach did not meet that standard.

“Understandable are the general safety concerns of officers who fear retaliation from angry members of the community after an officer-involved shooting, especially when the shooting results in the death of an unarmed person,” the court wrote. “But the Legislature ... has not gone so far as to protect the names of all officers involved in such shootings.”

The officers names were eventually released in the Zerby — officers Jeffrey Shurtleff and Victor Ortiz — and the family of Zerby, 35, won a [sic]

Officers Jeffrey Shurtleff and Victor Ortiz were found liable in the death of Douglas Zerby, 35, won a $6.5 million civil judgment against the officers and the city. The jury in federal civil court found not only that the officers violated Zerby’s 4th Amendment Constitutional rights, but that they committed a battery on Zerby and were negligent.