Public Records Act lawsuit by FAC, Knock LA journalists seeks recordings of police breaking up protest outside LA mayor’s residence in 2020
The First Amendment Coalition and independent news organization Knock LA today filed a public records lawsuit to bring more transparency to policing in Los Angeles.
The lawsuit demands the release of body camera footage and other recordings showing the Los Angeles Police Department’s violent treatment of protesters who demonstrated peacefully outside the official residence of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on December 6, 2020.
For more than 18 months, the LAPD has refused to turn over the recordings of the incident that left protesters badly injured, despite a landmark police transparency law that took effect in 2019 that requires public disclosure of recordings of this kind of use of force. (Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and individual protesters have filed a civil rights lawsuit over officers’ use of force.)
“When officers hurt people, the public has a right to the full story, not just the police department’s spin,” said David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition. “LAPD’s stonewalling is just one example of statewide resistance to police transparency.”
In recent years, the California Legislature has passed laws to pierce the veil of secrecy that for too long shielded police misconduct and use of force from public scrutiny. In recognition of the importance of press and public access to body cam, dash cam and other recordings of violent use of force, lawmakers passed AB 748, which requires disclosure of any audio or video recording of “critical incidents.” Critical incidents include any force that causes “great bodily injury.”
“This is very suspicious because the LAPD keeps changing its story on why it won’t release these tapes more than one year after the attack,” said Susan E. Seager, director of UC Irvine School of Law’s Press Freedom Project, which brought suit on behalf of FAC and Knock LA. “Why are Chief Michel Moore and the LAPD trying to block the public from seeing officers club non-violent protesters outside the mayor’s home?”
Secrecy, the lawsuit explains, can only be justified if disclosure of critical incident recordings would substantially interfere with an active administrative or criminal investigation, and after one year from the incident, the agency must prove substantial interference by clear and convincing evidence. That time limit has long since passed. The LAPD has not claimed that there is any such active investigation, much less proven substantial interference.
“Once again, an agency of the city of Los Angeles is refusing to provide records that state law has defined as accessible to the public,” said Cerise Castle, a Los Angeles journalist who writes for Knock LA. “The city knows there is no agency tasked with assuring compliance. Once again, we are forced to sue to do our jobs and give the public transparency. It begs the questions — what are they trying to hide, and for whose benefit?”
The lawsuit asks the Los Angeles Superior Court to immediately direct LAPD to disclose the records sought by FAC and Knock LA and issue declaratory judgment that the records are subject to disclosure under state law.
The First Amendment Coalition is a nonprofit public interest organization working across California to advance free speech, a free press and a more open and accountable government. It published the Police Transparency Guide, a free resource to help the press and public access newly available records about police misconduct and use of force.
About Press Freedom Project
The Press Freedom Project is a clinical law program at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law that teaches law students practical legal skills by pairing them with independent journalists and government watchdog groups and providing these clients with free legal services. The Press Freedom Project is part of the Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic.
About Knock LA
Knock LA is a nonprofit, independent news website focusing on local law enforcement misconduct and government corruption since 2017. The website published last year a 15-part series about the history of violent gangs of deputies within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Legal Director, First Amendment Coalition
Phone: (619) 701-3993
Susan E. Seager
Adjunct Clinical Law Professor, UCI Law
Phone: (949) 824-5447