Once home to the strictest confidentiality laws in the country protecting police misconduct, California is now striving to become more transparent about its corrupt cops under a new law enacted this year.
But police are doing all they can to keep the records secret under the guise of time constraints and egregiously high prices to obtain information.
However, a growing coalition of news outlets have partnered to create the California Reporting Project where they have agreed to share the public records requests they have made as well as the records themselves once they have obtained them.
Under the state’s new transparency law, Senate Bill 1421 police are required to make private records regarding officer shootings, dishonesty, use of force and sexual misconduct available to the public. The previously held police misconduct laws prohibited not only the public from seeing any records, but also prosecutors from having direct access to reports and body camera footage.
Although this bill was passed last September and went into effect January 1, many large departments have tried to dodge releasing their records. Some departments even went as far as destroying records to avoid their bad policing coming to light.
Newspapers, radio stations, television news stations and online news sites that make up the California Reporting Project have made more than 1,200 requests for records so far, but only about a third of those records have been released.
Even the California Department of Justice is refusing to comply with SB 1421, having only released to internal affairs reports of misconduct despite a San Francisco judge ordering the agency to release all the records.
“If the state agencies themselves are acting like they're above the law, that's absolutely the wrong model and the wrong example to set for the rest of the local government agencies up and down the state,” said Nancy Skinner, the Democratic state senator who wrote the bill.
The Redlands Daily Facts reported that some agencies are not responding to reporters’ requests, violating the California Public Records Act. This law requires government offices to acknowledge requests for public records within 10 days.
If it's not the outright refusal to even acknowledge receiving the requests, which it is required by law within ten days, it is the exorbitant costs dreamed up by government officials to release the records.
The city of Bakersfield said it would cost $6,621.60 to review audio and body camera footage related to a single shooting. The city said footage from cases within the last five years would cost roughly $185,000 to review. Bakersfield cops shot 28 people within that time.
West Sacramento estimated it would cost $25-per-minute to redact its footage and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department charged KPCC $1,655 to redact audio from shooting investigations.
The California Supreme Court is considering a case that would limit the amount of money agencies can charge for reviewing and redacting information.
From the documents that have been released, the California Reporting Project has been able to highlight deplorable offenses cops have been trying to keep a secret. Some officers received their due punishment while others got away scot-free.
Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California News Publishers Association, who helped get SB 1421 passed, said, “agencies are acting as if we’re going after their first-born child.”
“They’re just delaying the inevitable,” he said.
Below are some of the project's findings.
Yuba County, located 30 minutes north of Sacramento with a population of 76,000 people and claims to have “friendly communities” on their website, chose to destroy its police misconduct records two weeks after the law went into effect despite having already received requests from multiple outlets.
Yuba County Counsel Andrew Naylor told the Los Angeles Times the timing of the purge was completely coincidental. But David Snyder, director of the First Amendment Coalition, called Yuba’s actions “highly suspicious.”
Two years ago, the former chief of the Marysville Police Department in Yuba County stepped down from his position hours after news broke that the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office were investigating his sexual assault allegations.
A woman accused Aaron Easton of sexually assaulting her while they were on a ride-along during her time as a cadet at the Yuba College Police Academy in 2008. Easton was a part time instructor at the academy and full-time sheriff’s deputy at the time.
Two years prior, an investigation into the death of Easton’s wife opened up but was never concluded. She died in 2015 from a gunshot wound to the head.
Orange County Sheriff's Department
The Orange County Sheriff's Department is one of several large agencies that have not released any internal affairs records of misconduct.
In 2014, Orange County saw the start of a scandal that would taint the credibility of its justice system for years to come. A lawyer defending mass shooter Scott Dekraai raised a question about the county’s use of informants, later verified by jailhouse records. Sheriff deputies planted a snitch inside Dekraai’s cell to get him to divulge information without his lawyer present.
As of today, no one involved has been reprimanded for the unconstitutional acts that took place. In fact, former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas chose to keep the identities of 10 deputies accused of being a part of the jailhouse snitch scandal hidden.
Rackauckas went on to keep five names off the “Brady” list that “prosecutors use to disclose possible dishonesty by law enforcement witnesses,” as reported by Voice of OC.
Sonoma County Sheriff's Office
A sheriff’s correctional deputy in Sonoma County resigned in 2017 before his bosses had the chance to fire him for being sexually involved with an inmate under his watch.
Garret Paulson, nicknamed “Perv Runner” by a witness, worked for the Sheriff’s Office since 2016 as a guard in the county’s main jail that houses up to 284 female inmates. In March, 2017, Paulson’s bosses started an investigation sprouted from allegations of sexual misconduct made by a woman in the main jail. Under state and federal law, this kind of contact is strictly prohibited.
The witness said she saw Paulson spend 15 minutes in a woman’s cell, obstructed from view, which Paulson later confirmed to investigators. He confessed that he used a closet door to hide his whereabouts in the woman’s cell while Paulson asked the inmate to strip for him.
The district attorney’s office announced they would not be prosecuting Paulson due to the woman involved not cooperating, believing it was a consensual relationship.
Napa State Hospital
A Napa State Hospital police officer left a 64-year-old hospital patient with a fractured eye socket and broken teeth and three of his colleagues wrote misleading reports to justify his actions in 2017. They are all still employed and the victim spent seven months in jail before charges were dropped.
A fifth cop at the scene went on record to say the other officers’ recount of that day is not what actually happened.
Jose Alvarez, who is bipolar and was a patient at Napa State Hospital, was having a negative reaction to his medication when an alarm for security was set off and four cops charged him. Staff members said the cops went after Alvarez before assessing whether he was a threat or not.
Alvarez told KQED he may have been agitated, “but was not a threat to anyone” that day.
A doctor who witnessed the incident called it the most “brutal” takedown she had seen in her 11 years working at the hospital.
An internal investigation concluded the four officers should be fired, but one thing stood in their way: Michael Hauscarriague, the cop who slammed Alvarez “into a cement wall,” is the chief’s son.
Ultimately Hauscarriague was given a temporary reduced pay and officers Jose Becerra, Vuong Truong and Stuart Donaldson were retrained on use of force, communication, report-writing and interviewing policies, according to Ralph Montano, the department of state hospitals spokesman.
San Mateo County
A district attorney considered reopening an investigation into a former Burlingame cop who was fired for wanting sex in exchange for helping a woman who was stopped for drunk driving last year.
This was not the first time David Granucci offered help to women in exchange for sex. After he was fired last June when the woman reported him, two more came forward with similar stories.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe decided not to file criminal charges against Granucci, who had worked for the Burlingame Police Department since 2000.
“If there are police agencies around this state that have not been turning over potentially criminal conduct and just kept it behind closed doors, then this law is going to be a very good sunlight provision,” Wagstaffe said.
As for the other two women Granucci inappropriately interacted with, he met one while trying to arrest her son and retrieved the other woman’s information “surreptitiously” and went to her house the following day.
"This case is at the heart of what SB 1421 is all about: addressing the problems created by California’s history of secrecy around police misconduct and restoring the public’s right to know," Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the ACLU of Southern California, wrote in an email.
Despite reviewing accounts from three more women with similar experiences involving Granucci, Wagstaffe opted out of reopening an investigation.
Rio Vista Police Department
Katheryn Jenks called 911 in September to report her car alarm going off but was in handcuffs within minutes and bleeding on her right forearm where a police dog bit her.
The cops justification? Jenks abused the 911 system.
The 56-year-old woman had called the Rio Vista Police Department seven times between September 22nd through the 30th for various reasons including someone trying to break into her car as well as someone tampering with her garden hose. At times she would hang up or would not answer when dispatchers called her back but KQED reported officers never found anything suspicious.
An internal investigation made public under the new law found Rio Vista police officer Natalie Rafferty added false information in her initial report to warrant a felony charge against Jenks when she was instructed to only file a misdemeanor charge.
As a result, Rafferty was given a notice on January 16 for her department’s intent to fire her but appears to still be on paid administrative leave.
In another case involving Rio Vista cops, two officers attempted to investigate a drunk driving, hit-and-run incident but they tainted the investigation so much with their crimes, the suspect was unable to be charged.
Officers John Collondrez and Anthony Costa spotted a car with a dent parked outside of a home in the area information from the victim led cops to. Without a warrant or consent from the owner, Collondrez and Costa entered a man’s home and after he refused to go outside, Collondrez shoved him against a wall and put him in a chokehold. This lasted about 20 seconds.
Collondrez, the former head of the Rio Vista Police Officers Association, told investigators he intended to apply a “sleeper” hold. When done properly, it constricts blood flow to the brain by applying pressure to both sides of the neck, and causes a temporary loss of consciousness.
An internal investigation found Collondrez lied about finding keys in the suspect’s pocket and investigating the scene of the collision that actually occurred in a different county than the one they were in. The investigation also found he made an improper arrest and didn’t seek medical care for the suspect, a department policy requirement.
“Police discipline has always been shrouded in secrecy,” Samuel Walker, criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska said. “It's very good that the public knows about these things and as more and more records are released, we will get a better picture of the patterns; what are some of the recurring problems?”
Collondrez appealed the city’s decision to fire him twice and ultimately resigned in September.
Contra Costa County
A Walnut Creek officer, once named the department’s “Top Cop,” falsified 31 police reports according to internal affairs reports comprised of more than 860 pages made public by SB 1421, but a lawyer wants an even bigger review.
The District Attorney’s Office’s investigated cases Officer Curtis Borman was involved in that lead to a conviction and found Borman lied in 35 of them.
Public Defender Robin Lipetzky wants a review of every case Borman has ever been involved in.
“Once you know that this officer is behaving in this way and falsifying reports and mishandling evidence, (a review’s) not limited to the cases that were discovered," Lipetzky said. “There’s an inference that he was probably doing the same types of things on every case he handled."
Borman has been a part of the Walnut Creek Police Department since August 2014 where he is still employed. Chief Thomas Chaplin decided a “last-chance” option that worked to reform his behavior and suspend his pay for a month was the best consequence for Borman.
Chaplin told KQED Borman “was humble about his mistakes and has worked hard to overcome them” and “any review of Borman’s work since he was nearly fired won’t reveal any wrongdoing.”
“What we have already seen from those jurisdictions that have released records is that sunshine is a great disinfectant,” Skinner said.