Newspapers sue Sacramento sheriff for refusing to release records

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Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones (Photo: Facebook)

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones (Photo: Facebook)

The Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times newspapers have filed a lawsuit against Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones for refusing to comply with a California Public Records Act request for records related to sheriff’s deputies employed by his agency.

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento Superior Court on Friday, said both newspapers were seeking access to records related to deputies who fired their weapons or engaged in misconduct while they were on duty.

Those records, the newspapers say, must be disclosed under a new police transparency law that took effect at the start of the year. Senate Bill 1241 requires law enforcement agencies to disclose records related to “specified incidents, complaints and investigations involving police officers” unless those records are protected under another provision of California law.

In responding to the requests, the Bee reported the sheriff’s department found records that were responsive, but refused to disclose them until his office had “clear legal authority to release such records.”

A lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the newspapers said the new bill makes that legal authority clear and that the agency is trying to apply the new law only to records created after January 1. A letter sent to the newspapers from the sheriff’s department said Senate Bill 1241 did not apply retroactively to records created before this year.

Newspaper executives say the new law “made clear that law enforcement should be transparent in how it has used deadly force” and whether or not officers who misused their authority were disciplined.

“This is a matter of serious public interest,” Sacramento Bee Editor Lauren Gustus said in a statement published by the newspaper. “We at The Bee believe access to these records must be extended retroactively.”

In a similar case on Friday, a judge in Contra Costa County issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the City of Richmond from releasing police records that were created before January 1. That case was filed by an organization representing Richmond police officers who are seeking to block retroactive applications of the new state law, according to journalist Darwin Bond-Graham.