A&A:Trying to gain access to police records on musician’s unresolved cause of death

Q: I have been trying to get information regarding the death of a musician-songwriter for a few years now. He died in 2003 from stab wounds and his case was declared inconclusive by the police, and has remained open since. The police has never been able to determine if it was a suicide or a murder.

I know that the police have some files and reports that even the family were not allowed to see, and I have also been trying to gain access.  I would like to know whether there is anything I or the family could do to obtain these police reports and relaunch the investigation which has been dormant for 8 years.

A: The California Public Records Act, Government Code sections 6250 et seq., generally provides that the records of state and local agencies are open to inspection and copy upon request.

As you can imagine, however, there are numerous categories of records excluded from the Public Records Act. Among these exemptions is Government Code section 6254(f), which exempts all records in police investigative files, except that certain information regarding calls for assistance and arrest must be disclosed if contemporaneously requested.

So, unfortunately, there is nothing that compels the police department to disclose this information.

That being said, the exemptions to the Public Records Act are largely discretionary. Thus the police department can release the records you seek if it so chooses. So your best option is to see if you can convince them to release the records.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and freedom of speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representations. I apologize for the delay in responding to your inquiry.