As part of a new ‘Police Transparency Law’ that went into effect this year, local law enforcement agencies around the state have been scrambling to fulfill requests by news outlets and individual rights groups. The Emeryville Police Department has provided an initial request that reveals a single incident of misconduct from 2014 where a former officer was dismissed for sexual assault and dishonesty.
State Bill 1421, authored by State Senator Nancy Skinner and passed by our legislature, mandates the release of records pertaining to past reports of police misconduct such as sexual assault, dishonesty, discharging their firearm and incidents where a ‘great bodily injury’ resulted. According to the ACLU, about half the states in our country have similar transparency laws.
An attempt to veto the bill, citing its requirements to publicly identify even exonerated officers and the administration costs agencies would incur, was defeated. Records and officer identities for officer-involved shootings are required regardless of if they were deemed “justified.” The California Supreme Court recently denied an attempt by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies’ union to block some of these requests.
The law was written at least partially in reaction to some high-profile Officer-Involved shootings and the lack of public information that has led to protests and occasional violence. “When incidents such as a police shooting occurs, the public has a right to know that there was a thorough investigation,” Skinner notes on her District 9 website. “Without access to such records, communities can’t hold our public safety agencies accountable.”
Some cities have installed police commissions, made up of members of the public and other stakeholders, that are given access to police records and provide independent oversight and even hold hearings. Emeryville does not have have such a commission although does have a Public Safety Committee whose ‘members’ consist of two appointed councilmembers.
Not all agencies have willfully gone along with the requests setting up the possibility of some legal challenges. Berkeleyside.com and the ACLU recently filed a lawsuit against The Berkeley PD to receive their city’s past records. The interpretation of the law in question is how far these misconduct records can go back. Many agencies citing ambiguities, are delinquent, asking for extensions or flat-out looking to block certain requests.
The Emeryville Police Department promptly turned over records going back to 2014 through a California Public Record Act (PRA) request. These records include the two recent officer-involved shootings (Yuvette Hendersen in 2015 and Demilo Hodge on I-80 in 2017), as well as the firing of an officer in 2014 for sexual misconduct and dishonesty.
Former Emeryville Police Officer Joshua Patterson, hired from the Draper, Utah Police Department in 2011 while Ken James was Chief, was the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation in 2014.
The request states the following in regards to the ‘sustained findings’ of the IA investigation:
3. Records relating to an incident in which a sustained finding was made by any law enforcement agency or oversight agency that a peace officer or custodial officer engaged in sexual assault involving a member of the public. From January 1, 2014, through the present, the City has located the following as responsive:
(1) Records related to a 2014 internal affairs (IA) investigation, 14-02 and related case number 1407-2822 involving former EPD Officer Joshua Patterson.
4. Records relating to an incident in which a sustained finding of dishonesty by a peace officer or custodial officer directly relating to the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of a crime, or directly relating to the reporting of, or investigation of misconduct by, another peace officer or custodial officer, including but not limited to, any sustained finding of perjury, false statements, filing false reports, destruction of evidence or falsifying or concealing of evidence. From January 1, 2014, through the present, the City has located the following as responsive:
(1) records related to a 2014 IA investigation, IA 14-01 involving former EPD Officer Joshua Patterson.
The full report outlining the circumstances behind Patterson’s firing will not be available until after March 1st. The report on the I-80 officer-involved shooting that spanned several jurisdictions, is expected to be available on March 27th.