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Watchdog group sues L.A. County over disclosure of misconduct records

Daily News, April 29, 2021. https://www.dailynews.com/2021/04/29/watchdog-g...

By SEAN EMERY 

A law enforcement watchdog group is suing Los Angeles County in an effort to force the  disclosure of details of roughly 1,000 misconduct claims and lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office.

Attorneys with the UCI Law School Intellectual Property, Arts and Technology clinic filed the public records lawsuit on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the Human Rights Defense Center, a non-profit law enforcement and prison watchdog group.

Officials with the Human Rights Defense Center say that the claims and lawsuits they are seeking information about collectively cost taxpayers more than $550 million in settlement costs and attorney fees during an eight-year period from 2012 to 2020.

“At a time when the public overwhelmingly supports police reform, the county cannot choose to keep the problems with its Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office under a veil of secrecy,” Human Rights Defense Center Executive Director said in a written statement.

According to the lawsuit, the county has wrongly denied public records requests for “approximately 1,000 claims and lawsuits settled against the Sheriff’s Department for wrongful deaths, excessive force, sexual assaults and against the District Attorney’s Office for other misconduct.”

“The County’s main reason? It is just too hard for the County to search for the records,” the lawsuit reads. “So it didn’t even try. That’s not allowed under the law.”

The lawsuit requests a court order directing the county to disclose the records. County officials declined to comment Thursday on the pending litigation.

In a UCI Law School statement, UCI Law Adjunct Clinical Law Professor Susan E. Seager also called on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to order the immediate disclosure of the records sought by the lawsuit. Doing so would allow the public to search through the cache of documents to “look for misconduct trends developing over the years and identify problem officers who are defendants in more than one claim or lawsuit.

“This lack of transparency violates voters’ and taxpayers’ right to know of the rampant police misconduct plaguing their neighborhoods, especially during this time in which our community must hold the (sheriff’s department) accountable for failing to adequately address and discipline unethical behavior,” said UCI law student Sabrina Victor, who helped write the lawsuit, in a statement.

The Human Rights Defense Center is a non-profit advocacy organization focused on prisoner rights, which distributes criminal justice, legal and self-help publications, as well as the monthly Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News.

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