According to its recently published calendar for March 2014, the California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Long Beach Police Officers Assn. v. City of Long Beach, S200872.
The case is a petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed an order denying a request for a preliminary injunction.
This case presents the following issue: Are the names of police officers involved in on-duty shooting incidents subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act?
The Long Beach Police Officers Association sought an injunction blocking the release of the names of officers. Los Angeles Superior Court ruled against the injunction, and that ruling was affirmed on appeal. The matter will now be taken up by the California Supreme Court.
Los Angeles Times Communications LLC is listed as a Real Party in Interest.
The hearing will be held on March 4 at the Ronald M. George State Office Complex, Earl Warren Building, 350 McAllister St., Fourth Floor, in San Francisco.
The original civil case was filed on Dec. 30, 2010. A notice of appeal was filed on March 14, 2011. A hearing on the original civil case is scheduled for October 27, 2014, pending a ruling from the California State Supreme Court.
From the Petition for Review filed by the City of Long Beach:
A. The Zerby shooting and subsequent request under the CPRA
On December 12, 2010, Long Beach police officers shot and killed Douglas Zerby. This incident garnered significant media attention because Mr. Zerby was holding a garden hose nozzle that the police officers believed was a gun. Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton made a request to the City of Long Beach under the CPRA seekng the names of the police officers involved in the December 12th shooting and the names of police officers involved in all shooting from January 1, 2005 until December 11, 2010.
The Long Beach Police Officers’ Association (LBPOA) sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions against the City in order to prevent the release of its members’ names. The LBPOA expressed concerns for its members’ safety and referenced the ease by which personal information can be obtained over the Internet. The City expressed similar concerns and opposed divulging an officer’s name during a pending internal investigation due to the fact that the City’s investigation into the incident could be compromised.
The Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order. The Los Angeles Times intervened in the case and opposed the LBPOA’s position, which the City had joined. Police Lieutenant Lloyd Cox informed the court that the Police Department’s policy is to protect officers’ names during the course of the administrative and/or criminal investigation based in part on the fact that the investigative materials are part of an officer’s personnel file. Lieutenant Cox also informed the court that the department produces information from police personnel files only in response to motions filed pursuant to Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Ca. 3d 531, or through discovery in criminal and civil cases. Lieutenant Cox echoed the LBPOA’s concern that the identity of an officer should be protected when the officer is involved in a critical incident, including a shooting, in order to ensure the officer’s safety and the safety of his family.
The Superior Court denied the LBPOA’s motion for injunctive relief and dissolved the temporary restraining order, finding the names were not protected under California Government Code Section 6254(c), 6254(f) or 6254(k) or under California Penal Code Section 832.7 or 832.8. Finally, the court found the names were not protected under California Government Code Section 6255(a) because of insufficient evidence of threat to the involved officers. The LBPOA and City initially filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate which was denied. The LBPOA simultaneously filed an appeal and the California Court of Appeal found the matter directly appealable pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 904(a)(6). The City filed a separate notice of appeal.
The California Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision concluding that the names of police officers who are involved in a shooting are not rendered confidential by any of the statutory exemptions contained in the CPRA. Importantly, the exceptions that were developed occurred prior to the advent of the Internet where a person armed with a mere name, and the touch of a few keystrokes can access a multitude of information that was intended to be kept private, such as home addresses, phone numbers, and family member information.