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Home / Judge David Cowan

Judge grants ACLU’s request to stop destruction of police conduct records

A judge Tuesday granted a request by the ACLU of Southern California for a temporary restraining order preventing any potentially relevant use-of-force and other police conduct records the ACLU wants to examine from being destroyed by the Inglewood Police Department.

The Los Angeles Superior Court 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.

Judge David Cowan heard arguments Tuesday morning on the ACLU’s request for a TRO preventing the city from destroying any records that may be relevant to its public records request. The judge took the case under submission, then issued his ruling later. He also scheduled a Jan. 18 hearing before Judge Mary Strobel on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued against the city. Strobel was not available for the TRO hearing.

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.

Attorneys Sean Garcia-Leys and Edward Kang, for the ACLU and the city of Inglewood, respectively, both told Cowan that some records are not relevant to what is being sought by the ACLU and can be eliminated. But they disagreed on whether the city should be allowed to go forward with destroying those documents.

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.

Cowan asked Kang whether the city would be harmed by meeting with the ACLU attorneys and discussing whether any of the documents the department plans to destroy are relevant to what the ACLU wants to review. The judge also noted that the city is not just a “custodian of records,” but also the overseer of a police department that could be the subject of negative information within those documents.

But Kang replied that the records set for destruction are clearly not applicable to the ACLU’s request, and those that are will be handed to the organization when the criminal and civil investigations are completed.

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.

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