California Supreme Court backs expanding access to police misconduct cases

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The Supreme Court of California decided unanimously on Monday the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies within in the state must disclose to prosecutors a deputy’s history of misconduct if and when the deputy plans to testify in a criminal case. 

Monday’s decision overturns a Court of Appeals ruling that prohibited the sheriff of Los Angeles from giving prosecutors the names of deputies who are known to have committed misconduct such as lying, accepting bribes, tampering with evidence, abusing suspects with excessive force, and domestic violence.

From The Los Angeles Times:

The case before the court stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the L.A. deputies’ union to prevent former Sheriff Jim McDonnell from turning over to the district attorney about 300 names of deputies with a history of misconduct.

A divided Los Angeles-based state Court of Appeal ruled in 2017 that the list must be kept secret, even in pending criminal cases in which errant deputies were expected to testify. Police departments in at least a dozen counties, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Ventura, have had a regular practice of sending prosecutors the names of so-called Brady list officers.

California’s strict laws protecting officer personnel files — which underpinned the appellate court’s ruling for the deputies’ union — were dramatically altered by a new transparency law that opened up records of confirmed cases of lying and sexual misconduct by officers, as well as shootings and serious uses of force. SB 1421, which went into effect Jan. 1, allows the public to see many of the documents at issue in the L.A. sheriff’s case. But the new law does not apply to the broader range of misconduct that can put an officer on a Brady list, including domestic abuse, sexual harassment, racial discrimination and bribery.

A Times investigation found the Sheriff’s Department kept a secret list of problem deputies for years but that it was never turned over to prosecutors.

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