L.A. County sheriff refuses to name deputies who open fire, defying state's high court

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department's refusal to name deputies who fire their weapons runs counter to a ruling by the California Supreme Court.

5/7/2021 3:27:00 AM

“The Supreme Court rule is unambiguous that the names of peace officers in shootings should generally be made public. LAPD obeys, but LASD does not,” said Inspector General Max Huntsman, whose office serves as a watchdog over the Sheriff’s Department.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department's refusal to name deputies who fire their weapons runs counter to a ruling by the California Supreme Court.

in October, Fred Williams Jr. asked the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for the name of the deputy who pulled the trigger.But sheriff’s officials refused to identify the deputy, making it nearly impossible for Williams to learn anything about him. Had he been in prior shootings? Was there a history of abuse?

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“That’s exactly why me and my attorneys are pressing for the officer’s name: So we can dig into his background,” Williams said.The secrecy Williams encountered is standard within the Sheriff’s Department, which routinelyof people who are shot, journalists and other members of the public to learn the names of deputies who open fire while on duty.

AdvertisementThe practice, which Sheriff Alex Villanueva has staunchly upheld since he took office in late 2018, runs afoul of a state Supreme Court ruling that generally requires such disclosures be made, experts say.It also makesthe Sheriff’s Department an outlier among some of California’s largest law enforcement agencies. A Los Angeles Times review found they readily make the names of officers and deputies public following shootings. headtopics.com

The Sheriff Department’s secrecy has come under increased scrutiny over the last year as widespread anger over high-profile police killings around the U.S. has given rise to demands for greater transparency by police. For departments looking to quell anger in the aftermath of a shooting, it has become a basic first move for many to release the names of the officers who opened fire.

The use of deadly force is the most consequential and controversial of police powers and withholding the names of deputies, advocates of police reform say, leaves the public unable to properly examine how the Sheriff’s Department wields it.“It just leaves a gaping hole in the public’s understanding of these crucial events,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. “The fact that they’re withholding these names in what appears to be a blanket fashion suggests that either they don’t understand the law or they’re intentionally avoiding their obligations under the law.”

The other major police agency in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as large agencies across the state, have not withheld the names of officers who fire their weapons. Some proactively publish the officers’ identities in press releases and online shortly after each shooting, while others release names when asked. Villanueva has argued that releasing the names of deputies places their safety at risk, even though other agencies have done so without problems.

The LAPD, for example, publicly identified officers in each of the 88 shootings that occurred between 2018 and 2020, according to The Times’ review. In San Diego, police released the names of officers in all 20 of the city’s police shootings during the same time period, The Times found. headtopics.com

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And in all 12 of its shootings during the three-year period, the San Francisco Police Department adhered to a policy that requires the names of officers to be published on its website, in a social media post and via press release within 10 days of a shooting or other incident involving serious force.

AdvertisementThe Oakland and Bakersfield police departments also released the names of each officer who opened fire while on duty in that three-year time frame, records show. The Kern County Sheriff’s Office made public the names of deputies involved in 16 shootings from that period. In one shooting in which seven deputies fired weapons, the department chose to withhold three of their names after concluding that identifying them would “threaten officer safety and effectiveness.” The office declined to elaborate.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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