Ventura Sheriff Sued after Repeated Refusals to Release Records of Office Misconduct and Force as Required by Law

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By Hongyi Wen

VENTURA, CA – The First Amendment Coalition (FAC) sued the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office this week for withholding public records relating to cases of police officer misconduct and serious use of force.

FAC is a “non-profit corporation located in San Rafael dedicated to advancing free press and free speech rights, ensuring open, accountable and transparent government, and promoting public participation in civic affairs.”

FAC’s lawyer filed the lawsuit against the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday after multiple attempts to access records relating to police officer misconduct were denied by the sheriff’s office.

Under the California Right to Know Act (SB 1421), which requires disclosure of records relating to investigations of serious police misconduct, FAC had first requested, more than a year ago on Jan. 31, 2020, records relating to incidents involving police misconduct occurring during 2019.

In the lawsuit filed by FAC, it disclosed that FAC on Jan. 31, 2020, specifically requested records about three incidents involving officers’ discharge of a firearm at a person, use of force against a person resulting in death or great bodily injury, sexual assault of a member of the public, and a sustained finding of dishonesty.

While all of these records fall within the definition of public records required to be disclosed, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office responded with only “publicly available media releases” related to two of the incidents.

After multiple letters from FAC requesting relevant video and audio files, the sheriff’s office released “redacted records” relating to one of the incidents.

However, the sheriff’s office “unlawfully conditioned the release of the records on payment of a $1,200.00 by FAC,” according to the court pleadings by FAC.

On Jan. 28, 2021, a year after the first request, FAC requested more records of police misconduct incidents ranging from 2016 to 2018 and 2020, including any and all audio and video recordings.

The sheriff’s office again only provided links that are publicly available about a shooting incident that occurred on Oct. 4, 2020.

The sheriff’s office refused to release any records from 2016 to 2018, claiming the refusal was based on an injunction from a superior court judge that SB 1421 did not apply to records created before Jan. 1, 2019.

However, that court decision was overturned by an appellate court, said FAC, on March 3. The ruling indicated that SB 1421 applies to records before Jan. 1, 2019. And on March 4, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office stated it will be “providing correspondence” by March 15.

FAC has yet to receive any of the requested records, and FAC’s lawyer described the sheriff’s office’s delays and denials of public records requests that cover a total of four years as “unlawful.”

FAC said, “The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office responded to multiple records requests with delays and denials, without providing sufficient justification required by the California Public Records Act.”

FAC is asking the court to issue a writ of mandate directing the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office “to produce forthwith copies of documents, records and other materials related to incidents and sustained findings.”

FAC Executive Director David Snyder explained, “The lawsuit continues FAC’s work across California to enforce the public’s right to know about policing in their communities. Unfortunately, the public has largely been left in the dark about the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, and that needs to change.”

Hongyi Wen is a junior at UC Santa Cruz, majoring in Sociology. He is from Guangzhou, China.


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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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