SB 1421 Challenged in Courts, But Most California Public Agencies Must Still Produce Peace Officer Records - Police Unions Obtain Temporary Restraining Orders to Stop Record Disclosures

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Best Best & Krieger LLP

Senate Bill 1421, which dramatically changed the scope of a public peace officer record, has generated a number of legal challenges since it went into effect on Jan. 1. Previously, the primary way to obtain peace officer records was through a Pitchess motion in a related criminal or civil proceeding. SB 1421 amends Penal Code section 832.7 to allow disclosure of records related to officer use of force or confirmed instances of officer sexual assault or dishonesty via a Public Records Act request.
Most recently, a number of police unions filed actions and obtained temporary restraining orders on the disclosure of records on the grounds that SB 1421 should only be applied to documents involving incidents that occur after Jan. 1, 2019. This argument is based on Penal Code section 3, which provides that “No part of [the Penal Code] is retroactive, unless expressly so declared.” Petitioners in these recent lawsuits argue that SB 1421 does not expressly provide for retroactivity and, therefore, should not apply to any records involving incidents before Jan. 1.
These recent cases include:

  • The Los Angeles Police Protective League filed an action on Dec. 31 to block the City of Los Angeles from disclosing records pursuant to SB 1421.  On the same date, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant granted a temporary restraining order to block the Los Angeles Police Department from disclosing such records and scheduled a full hearing for Feb. 5. (LASC Case No. 18STCP03495)
  • The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association filed an action on Jan. 7 to block the County of San Bernardino and the Sheriff’s Department from disclosing records pursuant to SB 1421. Two days later, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn granted a temporary restraining order to block the Sheriff’s Department from disclosing such records and scheduled a full hearing for March 11. (SBSC Case No. CIVDS1900429)
  • The Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff’s filed an action on Jan. 16 to prevent the County of Los Angeles from releasing records pursuant to SB 1421.  (no case number yet)
  • The Riverside Police Officers Association filed an action Wednesday to prevent the City of Riverside from releasing any records pursuant to SB 1421 that were created before Jan. 1, 2019.  (Riverside County Superior Court Case No. RIC1900940)

In some of the above noted lawsuits, the courts have issued temporary restraining orders on the release of information until the courts could determine how to proceed with the various legal issues presented in each action. Each of the temporary restraining orders noted above only applies to the agency involved in that lawsuit. To the extent a public agency not covered by a court order receives a PRA request that includes records covered by SB 1421, that agency should contact its legal counsel to confirm its obligations to produce responsive records.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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