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.