Howey v. City of Fresno

On April 18, 2023, Brian Howey, an Oakland-based investigative journalist, sued the City of Fresno under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) for the city’s refusal to release use-of-force records regarding the 2004 death of Michael Sanders, who was tased 10 times–resulting in multiple puncture wounds and severe burns to his groin–by three Fresno police officers. Howey sought these records while researching his story, “After police killings, families are kept in the dark and grilled for information,” published in the Los Angeles Times on March 28, 2023. 

The city refused to provide the records, contending they are not subject to disclosure under the CPRA because there was “no report, investigation, or finding of an incident involving the use of force against a person by a peace officer that resulted in death or great bodily injury.” The lawsuit, filed by the First Amendment Coalition and Tenaya Rodewald and Matthew Halgren of the law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, asserts the city violated the CPRA and California Constitution by refusing to release the records. 

After hearing argument on September 13, 2023, the trial court ruled in favor of the city on November 1, 2023, holding that Mr. Sanders did not suffer “great bodily injury.”

Press Release: Journalist Sues City of Fresno for Withholding Public Records About Taser Use that Caused Severe Burns (4/21/2023)

News Coverage: Fresno Bee: Fresno won’t release records after police Taser groin of man, who died. Lawsuit filed (4/21/2023) 

Legal Documents:

This case received funding from the National Freedom of Information Coalition through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Established in 1950, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation makes national grants in journalism, education, and arts and culture. Its fourth program, community initiatives, is concentrated in 26 communities where the Knight brothers published newspapers, but the foundation is wholly separate from and independent of those newspapers.