By Bill Hetherman
A judge Tuesday granted a request by the ACLU of Southern California for a preliminary injunction preventing some use-of-force and other officer misconduct records the ACLU wants to examine from being destroyed by the Inglewood Police Department.
“The balance of harm weighs heavily in favor of granting the preliminary injunction,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel wrote.
The judge told lawyers in the case to meet and agree on the exact language of the injunction before she signs it.
Edward Kang, an attorney for the city of Inglewood, objected to the words “potentially relevant” when determining which records are responsive to the ACLU petition. He also argued that none of the documents planned for destruction relate to what the ACLU seeks.
But attorney Sean Garcia-Leys, for the ACLU, countered that the city “should not be allowed to purge these documents.”
On Jan. 28, Judge David Cowan issued a temporary restraining order against the city. The ACLU petition, brought Dec. 23, seeks the information under the California Public Records Act and Senate Bill 1421, which was enacted in 2018 by the state Legislature and enables the public to access peace officer records concerning uses of force and police misconduct that had been previously unavailable.
Black Lives Matter activist Greg Akili, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, said he was pleased that the city was stopped from destroying the records and said it was irresponsible for officials to want to do so in the first place.
“What is the Inglewood police chief trying to hide?” Akili asked.
The ACLU’s petition asks for records that involve uses of force causing death or great bodily injury, discharges of firearms at a person, sustained findings of sexual assault involving a member of the public and sustained findings of dishonesty in the reporting, investigation or prosecution of a crime or investigation of misconduct.
In a sworn declaration, Assistant City Attorney Derald Brenneman said he reviewed the ACLU’s January 2019 records request and said records slated for destruction include “those that I determined to be nonresponsive to (the ACLU’s) CPRA request.”
“I confirmed that some records potentially responsive to (the ACLU’s) CPRA request should be temporarily withheld because they concerned incidents that are subject to a pending criminal, civil, or administrative investigations, and on that basis (the city) is withholding certain records until either a statute of limitations has run, or when the matters are no longer pending, such as when the district attorney has decided whether or not pursue criminal charges,” Brenneman wrote.
Brenneman noted as an example that Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon’s office has not yet made a decision whether to prosecute anyone in the Feb. 21, 2016, police shootings of Kisha Michael and Marquintan Sandlin, a young couple who were killed while sitting in a parked car in Inglewood.
But in her ruling, the judge said Brenneman’s statement was “conclusory,” meaning it lacked supporting evidence.
According to the petition, the IPD “has repeatedly dodged these requests for nearly three years now and appears determined to ignore its obligations under the law absent intervention by this court.”
Instead of complying and despite multiple follow-up efforts, the department “has still not produced a single responsive record,” and on Dec. 14, the Inglewood City Council adopted a resolution authorizing the IPD to destroy records that are potentially responsive to the ACLU’s requests, the petition states.
When the ACLU demanded that the department refrain from destroying any such records, the ACLU received no response, according to the petition.