A&A: How Can I Request All Audio and Video of My Arrest?

Q: I was arrested for DUI three months ago. Since then the DMV has dropped the case against me because I had 0.00 BAC.
The officer believed me to be under the influence. I adamantly denied his accusations but none the less he arrested me.
Now the probable cause is what concerns me. I am being told numerous different reasons why I was originally pulled over.
I believe that obtaining the body camera footage (as well as the dash camera and audio from inside the vehicle) will be useful for me as I near the court date. Officer was even talking on his cell phone as he drove me to the jail. So my question is: how and when can I request all audio and video documentation from my arrest?

A: The California Public Records Act (CPRA) requires public agencies to disclose public records unless some exemption applies. The CPRA exempts “[r]ecords of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures…or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes.” Cal. Gov. Code § 6254(f).

The exemption for “investigatory records” applies “when the prospect of enforcement proceedings becomes concrete and definite.” Williams v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 4th 337, 356 (1993). It can also apply after an investigation has concluded. Id. The records you reference—body camera footage, dash camera footage, and car audio from the arrest—sound as though they may fall under this exemption.

However, police are required to release a limited amount of information related to arrests, unless the disclosure of such information “would endanger the safety of a person involved in an investigation or would endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation.” Cal. Gov. Code § 6254(f).

Information that should be released includes the “full name and occupation of every individual arrested by the agency, the individual’s physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight, the time and date of arrest, the time and date of the booking, the location of the arrest, the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest, the amount of bail set, the time and manner of release or the location where the individual is currently being held, and all charges the individual is being held upon, including any outstanding warrants from other jurisdictions and parole or probation holds.” Cal. Gov. Code § 6254(f)(1). Thus, you should be able to obtain the basic details, including the “factual circumstances” surrounding your arrest, to the extent that information is contained in police records.

If you have not already, we would suggest writing to the police department and requesting the information listed above, making clear that you are requesting the records pursuant to the CPRA and specifically § 6254(f)(1). When an agency receives a written request for public records, it must respond to you in writing, and if it decides the records are exempt, it must cite an applicable exemption and its reasoning why that exemption applies. Cal. Gov. Code § 6253(c).

More information about submitting a CPRA request, including an overview of the law and sample text for writing your request, can be found on the First Amendment Coalition’s website here.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.

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