Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stanton v. Sims

Date Filed: November 4, 2013
Case Number: 12-1217
Per Curiam
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1217_bpmc.pdf

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE:  A police officer is entitled to qualified immunity, even if a search of a home is unconstitutional, when in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, irrespective of whether the offense is a misdemeanor or a felony.

Petitioner, a police officer, responded to a disturbance in a neighborhood known for gang violence.  As the officers approached, several men in the street ran towards Respondent's residence.  Determining the behavior was suspicious, Petitioner ordered the men to stop loud enough for everyone around to hear.  One man looked at Petitioner, turned, and ran into the residence.  Petitioner pursued the man; kicking through a fence gate, which struck Respondent, injuring her forehead and shoulder. 

Respondent sued Petitioner in Federal District Court under Rev. Stat.  § 1949 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging an illegal search of Respondent's home without a warrant.  The District Court granted summary judgment to Petitioner, finding: 1) Petitioner's entry was justifiable in light of the dangerous circumstances, as well as Respondent's decreased expectation of privacy in the curtilage of her home, and 2) even if the search was unconstitutional, Petitioner was entitled to qualified immunity.  Respondent appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed both findings.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and granted Respondent's motion to proceed in forma pauperis.  The Court only addressed the question of whether Petitioner was entitled to qualified immunity, and reversed the Ninth Circuit ruling, relying on heavy precedent, finding that Petitioner was so entitled.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Court Rules Officers Implicated in UC Davis Pepper-Spraying Must be Named

Federated University Police Officers Association (FUPOA) v. Superior Court
filed July 23, 2013 in the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District

The Court of Appeal ruled that the University of California must disclose the names of all the police officers who were involved in a November 2011, UC Davis campus protest, during which officers were videotaped pepper spraying demonstrators.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Los Angeles Times Communications and The Sacramento Bee, holding that the FUPOA failed to demonstrate that the police officer's identities in this case were exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act ("CPRA").

The controversy began in April 2012, when a task force led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso released a report detailing police misconduct during the campus protest.  In the report, the task force concluded, "The pepper-spray incident . . . should and could have been prevented."  The report did not recommend any discipline for any police officer,  stating it was "not address[ing] the issue of discipline."

The commission, however, redacted from the report the names of more than a dozen police officers who planned, participated in and/or witnessed the incident.  This redaction followed an agreement between the UC Board of Regents and the FUPOA that the names would be kept confidential due to concerns about the police officers' safety.

In May 2012, the LA Times and the Sacramento Bee filed a petition with the Alameda County Superior Court against the UC Regents to disclose the names pursuant to the CPRA.  At the Superior Court hearing the newspapers argued the FUPOA failed to cite proof that any of the officers were likely to suffer harmful consequences as a result of the disclosure of their names.

The Court of Appeal decision discussed the strong privacy interest of police officers in their personnel records.  The court concluded that the Pitchess statutes, which were enacted to protect such records, did not prevent the disclosure of the police officer's identity in this case.  The court stated that the Reynoso report was not a "de facto investigation" of a citizen complaint, nor is the report an exempted personnel record.

Following the ruling, the Court of Appeal ordered that the stay remain in effect, allowing the names of the officers to be withheld for 40 days, to permit FUPOA time to decide whether or not to file a petition for review in the California Supreme Court.

There is currently pending before the California Supreme Court a case where the issue is whether the names of police officers involved in on-duty shooting incidents are subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.  (Long Beach Police Officers Association v. City of Long Beach (Los Angeles Times Communication, S200872.)  The FUPOA had earlier requested the Court of Appeal to stay or vacate their case pending the decision in the Supreme Court in this "related" matter.  That request was denied.  Since the Court of Appeal decision has been ordered published, it is expected that the Supreme Court will likely grant review and stay proceedings until the Long Beach matter is decided.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Deputies' Photographs Not Confidential but Discovery Requires a Protective Order

According to a lawsuit filed by an inmate at LA County Men’s Central Jail, a deputy slammed the inmate’s face against a wall, rendering him unconscious.  That deputy then handcuffed the inmate, mounted the inmate’s back, and started to punch the inmate in the face and the back of his head.  A second deputy meanwhile allegedly kicked the inmate in the ribs and pepper sprayed him in the face.  The inmate ran a Pitchess motion seeking the official current service photograph identifying each deputy.  The trial court granted the inmate’s motion and ordered the Sheriff’s Department to produce a photograph of each deputy to the inmate’s counsel within five days.

Although the Court of Appeal deemed that the deputies’ photographs were not confidential peace officer personnel records and were also not protected by the deputies’ right to privacy, it did order that the disclosure of those photographs be subject to a protective order.  The Court determined the potential unsupervised display of the photographs posed an unreasonable risk of harm to the deputies.  The display of the photographs to inmates could generate resentment and attempts at retribution, regardless of whether the original allegations were true.

The Court of Appeal determined that the photographs would be subject to a protective order requiring them to be under the control of a neutral third party and under the court’s supervision.  Additionally, the photographs could only be viewed at the jail, courthouse, or some other secure location, by potential witnesses who are identified by name before they viewed the photographs.  The Court of Appeal also determined that the photographs should not be copied in order to ensure the deputies’ protection.