California Top Court Says Police Must
Name Officers In Shootings
Send a link to a friend
[May 30, 2014]
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The California
Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that police departments in the state
must as a general rule disclose the names of officers involved in
shootings, despite claims by a police union that doing so would endanger
The court, ruling 6-1 in a case brought by the union representing
officers in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach, said that
Californians' right to assess the actions of law enforcement
outweighed the individual officer's right to privacy.
"In a case such as this one, which concerns officer-involved
shootings, the public's interest in the conduct of its peace
officers is particularly great because such shootings often lead to
severe injury or death," Justice Joyce Kennard wrote for the court's
The case involved a December 2010 shooting by two Long Beach
policemen who opened fire on an intoxicated man standing in his
front yard after he pointed a garden hose spray nozzle at them. The
man, 35-year-old Douglas Zerby, was struck multiple times and
When a Los Angeles Times reporter sought the names of the officers
involved, as well as those of all Long Beach officers connected to
such shootings over the previous six years, the Long Beach Police
Officers Association went to court. It sought to bar release of the
names on the grounds that doing so could lead to threats against the
The city joined in, arguing that it had a policy of reviewing such
requests on a case-by-case basis.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the city could not
withhold the officers' names, a decision that was upheld on appeal
and then appealed again to the state Supreme Court, which sided with
the Los Angeles Times.
[to top of second column]
Attorney Kelli Sager, who represented the newspaper, said the
decision represented a win for freedom of information on an issue in
a state where many cities and counties had made a practice of
withholding the names of police officers involved in shootings.
"The California Supreme Court today laid to rest all the
misconceptions police unions have argued about whether this
information is public," Sager said. "We're very gratified the
Supreme Court has issued this resounding opinion in favor of public
access to information."
A lawyer for the union said officers were concerned the ruling could
put their safety at risk. "Unfortunately it will probably take an
officer or family member being hurt or worse before something gets
done," attorney James Trott said.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Dan Grebler
and Leslie Adler)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.