“you have no right to go into police officers’ personnel records”

19 Mar

Butte County League of Women Voters held a forum last week (March 14) – “Law Enforcement Records: Public or Private?”  There’s been a lot in the news over the past year regarding the protection of police officers’ personnel records.

According to the LWV announcement, “Topics include public access to public records, the process to access records, a review of Senate Bill 1421, alternative means for transparency, public review and oversight, and the role of media in transparency and public access to information.”

I looked into our right to access records on the web, and found the following at AVVO.com a “lawyer directory”.

Question:  Can a person get hold of a police officer personnel record’s that have complaint’s in the file, if so how do I get it. And how long does the police/sheriff dept keep the file after he is no longer working for the department?

If the officer arrested you, you can ask your lawyer to file a Pitchess motion. The police officer has to have either used excessive force, or lied or made a misleading statement in his report. When your lawyer files the motion, if the judge finds that there is good cause, he will order the department to give the names of people who’ve filed complaints. The records on complaints go back five years.

  • Answer From Lewis Robert Rosenblum, attorney from Santa Ana

Your question doesn’t elude to the fact that you were arrested or have a case pending, and I am assuming that you don’t have a lawyer or he would answer this question. So if you don’t have a case pending, you have no right to go into police officer’s personnel records. There is a police officer’s bill of rights protecting them from such intrusions and as the prior answer indicated, you would never get access to their files anyway, only the names of people who might have lodged complaints and only after you have established the threshold requirements that you are entitled to them. Your lawyer won’t get to see the files either.

Wow, “ you have no right to go into police officer’s personnel records.” Police officers have a bill of rights protecting them. Included in that bill of rights is Obama’s proclamation that a cop who feels his life is in any sort of danger is allowed to kill without retribution or accountability.

Some people feel police officers have more right to privacy than the rest of us, while others feel this practice perpetuates bad cop behavior, refusing to hold cops accountable for what would be considered aggravated assault if one of us did it. A cop can even get fired by one city and, unless he is convicted of an actual crime, apply for a job in another city without disclosing anything about why he was fired.

To my knowledge, Butte County DA Mike Ramsey has cleared every officer who has come before him in a shooting incident. Last year he finally charged Chico PD officer Scott Ruppel with aggravated assault for an incident in which he was caught on body cam strangling a restrained prisoner in the back of his squad car.

https://www.actionnewsnow.com/content/news/Charges-filed-on-former-Chico-Police-Sergeant–465548443.html

“[Officer] Ruppel’s face was tensed with what appeared to be anger and his upper body moved into the rear of the SUV continuing to press on Rowley’s throat. “

Just three weeks previous Ruppel had fatally shot unarmed Tyler Rushing. Ramsey called the shooting justified.  But I have to wonder – did/does Ruppel have an anger management problem? Ramsey dismissed that notion, saying Ruppel’s behavior in the strangling incident was “understandable” but not “justifiable.”

Regardless, Ruppel was acquitted by a Butte County jury, and allowed to retire with full pension and benefits. If he wants to, he can apply for another job, without telling any future employer about his past record. He could get a job at your kids’ school.

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of Desmond Phillips’ death. In Sacramento Black Lives Matter advocates are observing the first anniversary of the shooting of Stephon Clark. In both cases family and friends have complained about having trouble getting records that many people believe should be made public as a matter of routine.

So it seemed like a good idea to have a public forum, allow the public to question our local officials, including DA Ramsey and Chico PD chief Mike O’Brien, as to why these public employees are so protected. I was sorry that I could not attend. But a friend of mine attended and sent me the following remarks. 

There were about 30 or 35 people there.  It seemed about a third or more of the people there were wearing League of Women Voters badges.

Former city of Chico council member Andy Holcombe was moderator. Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea was there to answer questions, with County DA Mike Ramsey and current council member Scott Huber in the audience.

I didn’t see anyone from the ER or N&R, or anyone from the local TV or radio, although the event was being filmed by multiple cameras.

Most of what they talked about you could have got off the Web or through a google search and a lot was a discussion of police response/violence.

The audience was allowed to ask questions.  One person asked why nobody from Chico PD bothered to show up. Holcombe responded that they invited the chief but he said he couldn’t attend and since the chief thought this was a chief level event he would not delegate it to one of his underlings.

Another person asked if Butte County or the City of Chico conducted asset forfeiture and if so what records were available on that.  Honea answered the asset forfeiture question.  I was surprised that he was so matter of fact about it because asset forfeiture is very controversial.  The government can take your property with absolutely no due process. You don’t have to be convicted or even accused of any wrong doing. Honea said both Butte County and the City of Chico use it. He said you can go to the court to get records, but did not elaborate.

One member of Concerned Citizens for Justice said the City of Chico is refusing to release records prior to Jan 2 of this year but there was no conclusive answer to her question. 

Panel member Dave Waddell mentioned the $900/year clothing allowance given to Chico PD officers. According to Waddell,  officers are allowed to keep it for their personal use. It doesn’t have to be clothes. And he said many of the cops use it to buy guns. He was trying to find out what guns they are buying but the city refuses to say.

Waddell also mentioned a “tank” the city bought but Honea quickly corrected him and said it was an “armored vehicle.”

Thanks Rob, I really appreciate you sending me your take on the meeting. I wish I  could get more people to attend meetings and send reports like that. You don’t have to be a journalist to write about what you see, or what concerns you. 

I didn’t find any report in the media, but here’s Dave Waddell on why they needed to have the meeting in the first place.

http://chicosol.org/2019/03/14/butte-county-slow-id-recent-deputy-shooters/

My feeling is that we need a new DA. 

 

6 Responses to ““you have no right to go into police officers’ personnel records””

  1. s.k. rushing March 19, 2019 at 6:17 pm #

    Dear Juanita:Excellent article. Mr. Ramsey is not using his money to protect rogue cops. Mr. Ramsey is using taxpayer dollars, your money, to protect his image, pension, and rogue cops. Mr. O.Brien and Mr. Ramsey need to go from my point of view.Scott Rushing, father of Tyler RushingVentura

    • Juanita Sumner March 19, 2019 at 6:22 pm #

      Thanks Scott, you are exactly right. O’Brien is just holding on by the seat of his pants for his pension, and Ramsey has delusions of Elliot Ness.

    • Juanita Sumner March 19, 2019 at 6:54 pm #

      Thanks Jim, there’s a lot of interest in this issue right now and people should be informed about these policies.

      • Jim March 20, 2019 at 5:25 am #

        I’m not in any way against or anti-police. I want a strong police force in Chico. However people need to have confidence in them. Only transparency will instill this trust.

      • Juanita Sumner March 20, 2019 at 6:06 am #

        I agree, a strong police force needs the support of the public, but if they don’t stop treating us like children, that’s not going to happen.

        I grew up out in the sticks, the cops out there told us, “we can’t get here for at least 20 minutes, arms yourselves and be vigilant.” We also knew them, they were locals, we knew their Momma! Most Chico cops are from nowhere around here and will be off and running with their pensions to a gated community a million miles from here, with no consequences for the mess they’ve left us with.

        One of my favorite movies of late is Three Billboards Near Ebbing Missouri. I love Dixon, I think Sam Rockwell should have got an Oscar for that. Woody Harrelson too.

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