By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – Just what took place in Sacramento between the police and protesters following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020? Civil rights groups are trying to find out but have been blocked by Sacramento officials.
According to a complaint filed in Sacramento Superior Court, on February 26, 2021, “after months of reports of police violence against protestors, particularly people of color,” LCCRSF (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area) Attorney Tifanei Ressl-Moyer sent a Public Records Act Request to the city of Sacramento requesting “records regarding Sacramento City Police Department’s interactions with the public.”
They were looking for “information regarding police treatment, policies, and records that address and explain the Sacramento Police Department’s interactions with the public prior to, during, and following the 2020 protests against police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the ‘Stop the Steal’ protests and counter-protests at the California State Capitol in early 2021.”
Ten months later, the city has not provided a single public record and the suit alleges, “It has delayed disclosure without explanation more than ten times over ten months, despite numerous e-mails and phone calls from LCCRSF.”
The group has now filed suit for withholding dozens of police documents on “how police choose to respond to different protests depending on the content of the event, including disparities between the police response to Black Lives Matter protests and Stop the Steal rallies.”
The lawsuit alleges that “the City of Sacramento failed to comply with the Public Records Act, a state law which asserts that the public has the right to access information of public importance from public agencies.”
“It is unjustifiable that the City of Sacramento is withholding essential public records about its police department’s actions during some of the most impactful protests the city has seen,” said Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the LCCRSF.
She added, “The City’s months-long delay to provide access to basic public records is a clear violation of the law—and demonstrates the lengths they will take to avoid even the most basic act of police accountability.”
“The Sacramento Police Department continues to expose their complete lack of accountability through their pattern of withholding public records, including of police killings from families whose loved ones have been killed by law enforcement,” said Asantewaa Boykin, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project.
The suit is filed by the international law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, LLP, on behalf of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Says representing attorney Rafael Langer-Osuna, “As reflected in the Petition, the City’s delay is simply unjustified. Squire Patton Boggs is proud to step up on a pro bono basis and assist the Lawyers’ Committee in obtaining this overdue information.”
The suit demonstrates a long series of emails between the city and Ressl-Moyer.
On July 29, following a seventh extension, she responded, “This is the seventh time that the department has, without explanation, unilaterally extended its deadline for compliance. And the department has been withholding potentially responsive records it identified since no later than May 18, 2021.
“We are concerned that the department is not taking its statutory obligations seriously, especially with respect to such critical issues.”
On October 1, she wrote for a tenth time requesting the records.
The suit notes, “At no point has the City indicated that any aspect of LCCRSF’s public records request is objectionable. Rather, the City repeatedly promised the records and then simply did not produce them.”
They add, “At no point has the City asked that LCCRSF pay any costs associated with its records request. LCCRSF stands ready to pay reasonable costs.”
Under the California Public Records Act, public agencies are to respond within ten days of a request for public documents, but may request an extension in order to gather those documents. The only remedy to violations is a lawsuit.
The suit follows a similar lawsuit won earlier this year by the Sacramento Bee against the City of Sacramento for withholding documents on police killings.